Waiting

Happy Little Christmas Eve. (The day before Christmas Eve. A Little Eve.)

Today and tomorrow are my favorite days of the year. Especially Christmas Eve. We gather together to worship with Communion and then we light candles in a darkened sanctuary. As we fill the space with light we also fill it with song, singing Silent Night, written especially for this special night. And the whole world takes a deep breath and pauses in waiting and expectation for what is to come next. My favorite part is the expectation. I could do without the presents or the hullabaloo or the movies or the Christmas specials as long as I have that time of worship the night before Christmas, where we gather in silence and hope.

It is one of my favorite times of the year.

One year, I had a slightly different experience of worship than normal.

I was visiting my sister, who was teaching in France at the time. We went to Paris for Christmas. Cold, yes, but beautiful. For Christmas Eve, we went to a ballet at the national opera house, and then we went to go to midnight Mass for Christmas Eve. We were in Paris. Where better to go than the Notre Dame Cathedral. We had to stand in line outside for a long while in the cold, and once we got in, there weren’t really seats available, so we stood for most of the service. But this service. Yes, most of the service was in French, and I don’t know much French, though my sister is fluent. But then they began to sing.

Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant, one of my favorite French carols, filled the cathedral. Heavenly voices floated around us and drove deep into our souls. Other hymns were sung. Scriptures were read. And then they sang Silent Night.

We didn’t have candles in our hands. We were not going to be taking Communion that night at the Catholic church. My feet were aching and cold.

But none of that mattered. We were worshipping with over a thousand other people, singing or humming along with a carol that has travelled the world. We were singing in expectation and hope. We were ready to welcome the Christ Child once again.

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Swinging

I love swings.

I love the free abandon of swings.

To swing, you can get a push here and there, you can have people help you along, as you begin and gain momentum, but at a certain point, there is only so much someone can push you, there is only so high you can go with a helpful hand at your back, and at that point, to go higher, you must take your own initiative, and push yourself.

Alternating your body in a sideways S in back fall, and a lengthened L in forward motion, you have to pump back and forth to be able to rise higher. But as you propel yourself through shifting your weight back and forth on the swing, you reach a higher point at each apex, until your eyes are beyond the level of the structure from which the swing hangs.

It becomes much more than a seat suspended on a rope or a chain. It is a way to glide, to test what it would feel like to fly, to feel temporary moments of utter weightlessness alternated with extra force on every limb, down to your core. The swing is a way to escape, for a moment, the normal way the world works, and feel the rise and fall of your new being, carried by the dynamic of back and forth, back and forth.

I remember having to wait in line for the swings, to take turns to be able to swing on them. It always seemed that the amount of time I was in the air was minuscule in relation to how long I saw others take their turns. I don’t think that whoever was mediating was being unfair, I believe that time on the swings changes. I think that time is different when you are going back and forth on the swings, time is different as you go from weightless to heavy and back. When we swing, we are different people. It sounds silly, of course, but many things that we do change us, and when we play we are especially changed.

When we play, we can take on other ideas, we can become other people, we can discover new things about the world and about ourselves. We grow, as we play.

I still love to play on the swings. I don’t do it as often as I could, the church where I serve has a set, and they are well sunk in the ground, so I can swing as high as I want without worrying about tipping out or over. And every so often, I do go out, taking my seat, beginning to push myself back and forth, back and forth, creating an ever widening arc, playing with the joy of a child as the cumulation of my years float away on the wind.

And I swing.

Finding Inspiration

When I am looking for a new idea or a new way to describe an old idea, I need to go away from where all the bustle is, and I need to go to find a bit of peace.

When I am struggling with feeling dry and complacent, I need to go somewhere to clear my head. Generally I can go for a walk close to my house, or if I need to I can go take a shower, something that gets my body moving and helps to work ideas to the surface. Or, if I need to, I go to practice centering prayer, where I lie still and allow my mind to open, relax, and release into the presence of God.

Sometimes I am not searching for inspiration as much as it is placed on me. When I go to the top of the mountain, or to the shore of the ocean, or even to the edge of the local creek, I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel. I become fully present.

It seems that the common thread in all of these places and situations of inspiration is the ability to become fully present in those places and in my own body. When I am at the edge of the ocean, I can taste the salt in the air, feel the sand under my feet, hear the waves crash against the shore, and see the water continue its endless and never replicating cycle of movement. I have no choice but to sense the place of where I am, and so stand more solidly in myself, rather than have my mind flit between a hundred different places and a thousand different thoughts.

It helps if I don’t have my phone on, tethering me to everyone who has my number. Sometimes I need to get away, and be where I am, rather than wondering or worrying about this friend or that family member. I need space to remember who I am, in my own skin. When I do that, I can more ably respond to others with grace and kindness.

When I know who I am, I am better at being who I am.

I guess, in a way, that I find inspiration in places that allow me to be myself at my fullest potential. When I am not able to be myself, I end up rehashing old ideas and lack the creativity that lies silent and deep in my core. I can grow crusty with old things, but when I crack the shell of routine I am able to do more than I could ever do before.

When I go to find inspiration, I find more than that. I find joy.

Storm Shelters

A storm blew through our community last night just after sundown. The sun was setting in the west, and the storm was blustering in from the north and the east. It made for a pretty sky, but it also made the darkened storm clouds approach with a deeper darkness than we would have had otherwise. I love the way that storm clouds rush in over a landscape, and so I went to a neighbor’s yard to get some photographs with my phone. As I was taking the pictures, I looked back toward my house, and noticed that the storm had blown even closer, sinking us deeper into the dark. The wind was picking up as well, bending trees and whipping my hair around my face. Lightning flashed. It was time to get inside.

The Storm Appoaches
Storm Rolling In

I get nervous when a storm approaches. I can feel the storm approach deep in my bones. I get antsy. If you try to have a serious conversation with me when a storm approaches expect unthoughtful, one word responses. Lightning and thunder make me startle and jump, and the rush of a heavy rain with possible hail makes me check the storm reports and the colour of the sky, just in case of tornadoes.

I also love storms. I love their power, I love their force, I love the way that they renew the earth with fresh water. I just need a little more comfort when they blow through.

I’ve gone through some storms recently in my personal life, when I really needed extra comfort. Watching the storm clouds brewing in abstract doesn’t give me nearly the same kind of joyful awe as seeing the ones that blew over us last night. Life storms—whether they are upheaval, heartbreak, or loss (sometimes all three at once)—tend to solely fill me with dread and utterly sap my energy. The comfort I sought, through my support system and reliance on God, didn’t shelter and protect me the same way that the roof over my head covered me last night. It is as if I am stuck in a picnic shelter in the midst of a huge rainstorm, and the wind is blowing nearly horizontal sometimes. I still felt the creeping cold of loss deep into my bones.

Perhaps I need to learn to build better storm shelters, dig myself a shelter deep in the ground somewhere, go hide until the storm blows over. But if the shelter is deep and secure enough, then I may not know when the storm has gone. I may hide in my shelter and never realize that the skies are blue again.

There is another problem with a shelter dug too deep. I am the only one inside it. Sure, folks can come and provide me with some essentials now and later, but a shelter that protects me from every single little thing has only space for me inside it. Not only is it lonely, it is also selfish. With a deep personal hiding hole, I don’t provide shelter or provision for others. I cannot help others with their storms and crises when I am sunk deep into the earth myself. Part of the way that I heal is by providing shelter for others. I can’t do that deep within my own insulating shelter.

And so I keep myself from digging a cellar in the ground, a metaphorical storm shelter that will insulate me from every single drop of hurt and brokenness. Instead, I expose myself to the storms, feeling the pain and hurt of those around me, looking for the way that each new storm will provide the space for new healing and renewing power. Because storms have power. They have the power to destroy, but they also carry energy to wash away the debris and detritus that have built up in our lives. Yes, destruction will occur. Objects, emotions, and relationships will be torn away. But what remains is space for renewal and rebuilding. The cold will seep deep into my core, but sooner or later the skies will clear and allow warmth and healing to begin.

The storm is not the end of the story. The storm does not speak the final word. The storm is a powerful, magnificent, awesome (in every sense of the word) force of nature. But the one who created nature is bigger, and has a bigger story to tell. And so I celebrate the storm. I know there is a sun shining right behind it.

Inbreaking
Inbreaking Light

Scarves, Skirts, and Shoes

Jerusalem teaching steps
Jerusalem Teaching Steps (photo by John Bryant)

I am not a person of high fashion. I never said I was, I never try to be, I never imagine that I shall be. I have my own fashion. But isn’t that what we all say, hipster millennial digital native generation that we are? We all claim to be unique… just as everyone else claims. Still, I have my own preferences for clothing, which tend to lead towards comfort and functionality at the cost of the cutting edge of… anything else really.

I learned about a year ago that my preference towards comfort in my clothes partly has to do with a hypersensitivity of my skin: I feel every single texture of every single stitch I wear, especially if one is out of place. It was odd, and then amazingly right, that a doctor asked me about my feeling about socks as a child. The verdict: utter animosity.

I still don’t like socks—though I’ve gotten to work around it in the wintertime by collecting soft knee socks—I wear my sandals at any chance I get. Not just any sandals, mind you, but my high tech, low profile, webbing strapped hiking sandals. Y’all, I love these shoes. They carry me well. They support my feet, knees, and hips through days of standing or hiking.

They are also a convenient way of identifying other kindred spirits. I look at shoes and see who is wearing what. And when I see someone I don’t know wearing these specific shoes, I can begin a conversation with them about what is on their feet. My shoes both connect me, and set me apart, partly because of the heavy price tag for these specific shoes.

I’ve worn these shoes in the blistering heat and when snow was still on the ground. They’ve carried me through deserts and rain forests, sometimes in the same week. These days, I don’t always wear them to preach, but sometimes I go with it anyway, if I am feeling rebellious or tired. They are part of my identity, however skewed that may be. They go with my favorite skirt, a hiking skirt that was designed by a fellow former Peace Corps Volunteer. And a scarf usually completes my outfit (with the necessary shirt of whatever sort).

An aside on scarves: I hate turtlenecks. I always feel like they are choking me, and I cannot stand that constant, or occasional pressure on my neck. It’s one of the reasons that I hesitate getting a clergy shirt—I am not sure that I want to get a hard band of plastic to sit against the most sensitive part of my neck. I fear I would be distracted and unable to do the work of ministry. Part of my sensitivity with my neck became more concrete when I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition, and my thyroid began to swell… and I couldn’t stand to have anything, or anyone, touch my neck.

Here is where it gets a little more odd. Though I hate turtlenecks with a vengeance, and have this utter sensitivity about what touches my neck, I’ve become deeply enamored with scarves. I’ve been wearing them as an integral part of my wardrobe going on ten years now.

Whatever it is about scarves, usually the wide and soft wrap style, I love to wear them. Perhaps it is the amount of control I have on where it goes and how I wear it. I have different scarves for each of the seasons: winter, fall, spring and summer. I now have too many to count, but I never turn one down.

I suspect that I like to wear them because they are a part of the protection that I put on when I go out. If the temperature is just a little too cool in an air-conditioned building, the scarf goes on tighter. Or it loosely drapes somewhere. Or it gets stuffed in my purse and pulled out at the next time I need it. I need one when I am driving to protect my neck from being rubbed raw by the seatbelt, and to keep my neck warm when the AC is on full blast. My scarves protect me, add modesty to my neckline, and help add a layer to my style.

My style may not ever be featured on the runway, and I may get flack from my family who doesn’t quite understand why I like to wear what I do, but it’s my style and I like it.