at the still point (a giveaway).

Multi-tasker I am, the first hour in our house usually looks something like this: Sesame Street or Curious George is on the television, of which Cancan is utterly thralled. Baby Brother sits twelve inches to my left, bouncing in the bouncer, while I nestle into the couch, coffee in one hand, book in the other.

Because people, I’m telling you, it’s amazing how easily one can tune out the nasal-throated voice of Elmo if you just try hard enough.

In this time, I crave something that combines a bit of thought-provoking intelligence for mind and soul …but not something that points me toward thinking a certain thought or believing a certain belief or answering a specific question.  I simply want the Writing to capture me, to leave chewable musings in the back of my mind for the rest of my day.

If you’ve been following the blog over the past couple of months, you may have been drawn to the four-week series on Advent in the month of December.  [Need a refresher?  Week 1.  Week 2.  Week 3.  Week 4.]  Those writings were inspired by my friend Sarah Arthur’s book, Light Upon Light.  Well friends, I am delighted to give away a copy of another one of Sarah’s books, At the Still Point.

It’s “a literary guide to prayer in ordinary time,” so you’ll find yourself reading an opening prayer like this…

By Teresa of Avila (Spanish, 1515 – 1582):

How good Thou art, O God!  All is done for us by Thee, who dost but ask us to give our wills to Thee that we may be pliable as wax in Thy hands.

With readings that look like this…

From “Hide and Seek” by Enuma Okoro (Nigerian-American, contemporary):

To learn your name
seems a task I turn to play
of arms outstretched about me.
Trying to catch revelations
in a childish game of toss-up…

From Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: 

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of every having promised anything, remained speechless.  The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them.  He resumed with solemnity:-
“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.  It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

There’s also the opportunity to look up scripture (on your iPhone, if you’re like me), and to read a closing prayer.  If this book looks like something you might enjoy, simply leave a comment below.  I’ll pick a winner on Monday, February 9th.

51AiSbv2D8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Otherwise, what does the first hour of the day look like for you?  Sesame Street or Curious George: who’s your pick?  Otherwise, leave a comment below to win Sarah’s book, or pick up a copy for yourself.  You won’t be disappointed!

*FYI, post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

advent 3: sojourners in the land.

Today is the third in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend highly enough), this third week looks at the theme “Sojourners in the Land.” You can find week one and week two here. Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!

Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Shah.
Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Shah.

Another text popped up last night: What’s your address?  Did you move again?  I can’t remember…

And I’m like, I GET YOU.  I can’t wait to see your crew of smiling, effervescent faces in my mailbox, but I understand why you’d be asking me that question, again.

Because here’s the truth: I’ve not lived in the same place for more than two years since I was 18 years old – and y’all, I ain’t no spring chicken.

The upside is that I’ve become a master at packing and unpacking, a guru at visualizing a space and revamping living quarters appropriately, and an expert at constantly schlepping through stuff for the weekly Goodwill drop-off.

Martha Stewart would be so proud.

The downside, though, is obvious: I hate moving.  Although I’ve moved past enlisting friends and family to join in for “Free pizza and beer!” (because let’s be honest, that charm begins its rapid descent after or around the age of 25), I’m done sifting and sorting, filling and wadding and sorting our junk into cardboard boxes.

But I’ve accepted that, for whatever reason, this has been a part of my story, the marking point that’s kept me from getting too comfortable, from taking home for granted.  It’s helped me to understand what it means to be The New Girl, to start over in a neighborhood where you don’t know the back roads and you’ve yet to run into that friendly face in the grocery store.

It’s also helped me to understand what it means to be a sojourner, to be someone who resides temporarily in one place.  Because I, too, am a sojourner.  I wait for my final place, and I wait to hunker down and lay down roots.  I wait to make house our home, as I wait for home.

Certainly, this idea of sojourning is not new to the liturgical season of Advent.  Mary and Joseph, en route to parenthood, sojourned as they looked for a place to lay their heads.  The magi who practiced astrology – those three “wise men” who really did believe in signs and wonders, in a heavenly message communicated through the stars – were said to have trekked nearly a thousand miles in search of the baby boy.  Likewise, those dirty, stinky shepherds tending sheep in fields nearby, had to pick up their skirts and wander through the desert a few hundred yards at least.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch the greater idea of a wandering nation, a symbol of the Jewish people who have been cast out, ever yearning for home.  (Nor, for our purposes, does it begin to touch the bigger spiritual idea of one’s final eternal homeas well).

Because no matter where or how or why you sojourn, you search.  You search and you seek and you, too, yearn for a place to lay your head.  You sit by the rivers of Babylon and you remember Zion.  You wait and wonder how long… how long… how long… you’re to sing this song.

But then, perhaps because you’ve embraced this whole notion of sojourning as a part of your story, you put one foot in front of the other.  Step by step, you begin to believe that that is enough, that “The earth is enough and the air is enough/ For our wonder and our war…”*  You begin to dot your words with the occasional exclamation point because you trust in the journey, in the sojourn, in the temporary nature of it all.

Perhaps your mouth even whispers these ancient words:

“Lead, Kindly Light, amid the circling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home –
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene, – one step enough for me.”*

So darling, let’s be sojourners.

Selah.

What about you?  Are you a sojourner?  How or where or why did that happen?  

* = “The House of Christmas” by G.K. Chesterton

** = a prayer from John Henry, Cardinal Newman

advent 2: annunciations.

Today is the second in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend more highly), this second week looks at the theme “Annunciations.”  You can find week one here.  Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!  

Escalator Graffiti
Flickr Creative Commons: Tina Leggio.

Sometimes – like this morning – the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I decide to put on our Brave Hats and navigate downtown San Francisco, with two young children in tow.  Generally speaking, we’ve not enough coffee in the morning when this decision is made, but the pull to ride the train! train! for Cancan’s amusement and get off at the Powell Street station to see Christmas in all its glitz and glory, is a weighty one.  So we go for it.

While doing so, many such announcements are made to the general public, including but not limited to:

We’re crazy!  

This – this screaming, restless saint of a tired child right here – is why you should be nice to all parental-looking people you encounter.

Two-year-olds: they’re not for the faint of heart.  

Escalators are the cheapest form of entertainment available out there;  head to your local mall and try one out today!  

Likewise, no shortage of relief exists once we’re home, safe and sound in the nest of comfort and routine.  Announcements continue to persist, in which I go from giver to receiver.  No longer do I inadvertently proclaim birth control to all Nordstrom patrons, but upon opening my laptop, I am inundated with messages: Save 15% today!  Free shipping!  (E-mail).  We just saw Santa! My kid cried when he was forced to sit on a stranger’s lap – you gotta try this! (Facebook).  Win me!  Quote me!  Retweet me!  (Twitter).

And like Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day, the cycle repeats, over and over again – with the same announcements, and the same mind-boggling inundation of information, and the same breathless beggary to consume and partake and buy more.    

Maybe that’s why I like the simple clarity of a single announcement, of an isolated interaction between a young girl and an angel.  And this announcement of the Incarnation – of God becoming fleshy man in the form of a baby – landed itself its own definition: annunciation.

We don’t know where Mary and Gabriel were when the Great Announcement took place, when he showed up to let her know that she was highly favored.

We know that this teenager didn’t understand it right away; she didn’t get why God chose her, and she didn’t get the whole Holy Spirit impregnation thing (and neither do I, let’s be honest).  And we know her response, at least the response passed down through centuries of oral tradition: Yes.  I accept.  I’m in.    

Because there, somewhere underneath Galilean stars, a holy moment birthed itself between God’s messenger and a bewildered teenager.  If Mary, exalted as she is, is anything like adolescents today, I’m guessing she left that conversation still caring about what others thought about her, still desiring to not have a Jerusalem camera crew following her every 16 & Pregnant move around town, still begging to not be announced and talked about behind other people’s backs.

Maybe that’s why this week’s advent theme is not just called annunciation, but annunciations.  Although the moment was singular, the message was bountiful: You are chosen.  You’re the one to carry the son, the son, that is.  Because things are gonna change through this birth, believe you me.

Announcements, where immensity cloister’d in thy dear womb.”*

Announcements to a girl “whose womb was a place/ Of middle kind…”**

Announcements that plead us beg, “Deliver, and make us, to both ways free.”  

So what announcements will you hear today?  Might we all tune our ears to a different, softer, magic-filled kind of announcing inundation today.

Announcements: what are your ears hearing on an everyday December basis?  And what do you need to tune into today?  Happy Advent!

* = “Annunciation” by John Donne

** = A prayer by John Donne

advent 1: begin with a change.

Today is the first in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend more highly), this first week begins with the theme “Begin with a Change.”  Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!  

Flickr Creative Commons: Aff Photography.
Flickr Creative Commons: Aff Photography.

Christmas snuck upon me, again.  For the 35th year in a row, it’s like I went to bed sometime around the first of September, and awoke a day or two ago to find the world decked in green and red, illuminated by the hopeful glow of sparkling white lights.  Egg nog beckons me on an hourly basis and the mail box actually gets emptied every day because I am actually eager to see a stack of Real, Live Hand-Addressed Mail. The Justin Bieber Holiday station blasts through the Pandora speakers most every minute of our day, and I find myself at the gym for the sole purpose of burning off every Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe I’ve more-than-merrily consumed.

It’s blissful.

And it’s exhausting, already.

Because we’ve yet to buy a tree and the bins of Christmas decorations remain stacked in the garage, somewhere between the lonely and forgotten camping gear and a now-defunct high chair.  I had aspirations of being So On Top of It! this year and getting all my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving, but by the time I finished stuffing my face with an Alabamian spread of turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and sweet potato pie, I realized I’d already lost the battle.

Maybe next year, Self.

In the meantime, my to-do list grows: get decorations out, buy Christmas presents – figure out what to buy for Christmas presents – wrap Christmas presents, place Christmas presents in a place where your favorite two-year-old won’t go to town and unwrap his Christmas presents, figure out how to secure Christmas tree to wall so two-year-old won’t sharpen his climbing skills…

And so it goes.

Because if you’re anything like me, December arrives, and with it comes a flurry of stress and busyness, a rush of expectation and anticipation of the Big Day.  We go to parties and we hire sitters and we slurp our bellies into last year’s Spanx so we can impress and dazzle our friends with good tidings and great joy.  We decorate the kitchen in sprinkles and icing (perhaps frosting a sugar cookie or two in the process), and we say yes-yes-yes to every invitation that comes our way because we don’t want to miss one more minute of the magic and the merriment and the joy.

But in doing so we’re exhausted: tired and sleep-deprived, we exhibit the very nature of Scrooge himself.  We’re short with others – quick to anger and poor in love – and we’re even shorter with ourselves, pummeling our insides as the cycle begins anew at the start of each wintry, tinsel-filled day.

We’ve forgotten to enter into rest and reflection, to sit with that cup of hot tea and enter into the Holy, embracing the unknowing tension of the season.

We’ve neglected to steady our ears for “…the inaudible sound of a secret seed…”, to listen for Hope’s silence in the midst of the rustle and the rush.

As for me, change is imperative.  So I begin with the smallest of shifts, and when that cup of coffee first graces my hands, I read a poem or two and I engage in antiquated prayers.  I whisper “…enmeat yourself so we can rise onto our feet and meet,”** as I stare google-eyed at the little one perched atop my lap, holy cooing his reply.

I make an effort to steady my heart for this birthing grace, breathing hymn’s echoing haunt:

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He the source, the ending He…***

Because sometimes, my friends, you just have to begin with a change. And that is what I’m doing.

How about you?  If you celebrate Christmas (or participate in the Advent season), how do you prepare your heart for the Incarnation? Regardless of belief, what’s one change you’ve made lately that’s made all the difference?  (Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out A Very Foodie Giveaway, a contest I’m doing with five other writerly bloggers so YOU can win!)

* = “Freeman Creek Grove” by Paul Willis

** = “Incarnation” by Amit Majmudar.

*** = Translated from a poem by Aurelius Prudentius