Aug 25 2016

Introducing the Contemplative Cottage

Five years ago, walking up a street on Queen Anne hill in Seattle, I came to a corner house with a second lot as its backyard. I found myself frozen in wonder, standing on the sidewalk, looking at a mature garden, the product of years and tender care.

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Little rock paths threaded through beds for flowers and edibles. A fruit tree stood sentinel near a rustic shed. Everywhere, I saw loving touches: stones walls, statues half-hidden, little areas to sit and ponder. Even in its newly budding state, the love that emanated from it was a physical presence. It called up in my heart a longing so sudden and fierce, I found tears spilling down my cheeks.

Why?

I took the experience of seeing the garden as my lectio text for that day and let the reflective practice do its work: reading the experience, meditating on the parts that shimmered, and praying.

It was almost immediately clear why it had touched me so deeply. Ten years before, I’d had a little bit of earth behind the church intentional community house where I lived. In that garden, I planted wildflowers and loved watching the columbine bloom. Even earlier, I’d discovered an overgrown garden behind my college rental and felt like Mary Lennox as I worked to uncover it. Over the years, garden and farm experiences solidified my love of tending the earth, enjoying its beauty, and eating from its bounty.

Secret-Garden

Seeing the hilltop house and garden plot filled me with longing because the possibility of having my own cottage and a bit of earth to grow healing herbs and edibles seemed so unimaginable–at the time, I was a PhD student, working as a house cleaner and a part-time adjunct.

God and I talked about my desire for a real cottage and garden someday, but rather than live in what seemed an impossible future, I set to creating a little garden on my balcony, growing wildflowers, herbs, and inviting hummingbirds to visit. It was enough.

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Now, five years later and three moves, including one that took me from my beloved Seattle community to the beautiful river city of Dubuque, I have moved into the cottage of my dreams.

Contemplative Cottage photo

Feeling settled and joyful about life in Dubuque and at the University of Dubuque, I knew it was time to buy, but there was a certain “something” that the many houses I considered lacked. One day, on a trip to a friend’s house, I happened to walk through one of my favorite neighborhoods, a two-minute walk from my campus office, and also near where I attend church. I sighed and prayed, “Lord, it would be so wonderful if there was a cottage in this area.” And there it was. Right there. I had missed it in my online search. Three days later, I put an offer in. Five weeks later I moved in.

Welcome to the Contemplative Cottage in the flesh!

Contemplative Cottage photo

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Moving into the cottage has also encouraged me to “move” back into this blog. Over the next set of posts, I’ll be sharing details about the sanctuary space I’m creating and some of the spiritual practices that are aiding me.

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I hope you will join me on this journey in attending deeply to life: looking for beauty, practicing peace, and gazing with love.

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Christ’s grace to you, and peace,

Susan


Aug 18 2016

Rhythms of Grace

As we begin a new school year at UDTS, I made a short video exploring rhythms of grace for our incoming students: holistic ways to think about our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits, in the midst of the busyness of life. This is first video I’ve made, with the lovely Sinsinawa Dominican Convent as the backdrop. While it is addressed to our incoming cohort, I believe there is much that can speak to people in different contexts.  May it provide a moment of retreat and encouragement in your week!

(Before playing, I invite you to pause the Music for Dreaming in the right column >>)


Jun 15 2016

Innisfree

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree
W. B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

***
(Pause the Music for dreaming and listen to Clare Holley’s lovely version of this song:


Jan 5 2016

The Epiphany Blessing: 20+C+M+B+16

Adoration of the Magi, a Beuronese painting at Conception Abbey

Adoration of the Magi, a Beuronese painting at Conception Abbey

Epiphany (Greek for epiphaneia, manifestation) is the holy day remembering Jesus Christ’s revealing to the world and has been celebrated since at least the mid-fourth century on January 6th. It remembers the revealing of Jesus as King and Messiah to the magi (and thus, to the Gentiles); the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God at his baptism; and the revealing of his ministry with his first miracle: turning water to wine at the Cana wedding.

Ethiopian Magi, Patrick Comerford

Ethiopian Magi, Patrick Comerford

Since the Middle Ages, people would go from home to home singing and enjoying each others’ hospitality. Using chalk, they would write the letters C+M+B on the doors or lintels of houses, blessing them as places of Christ’s hospitality.

CMB Epiphany

The initials represent Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, traditionally the names of the three Magi, as well as the Latin phrase, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, May Christ bless this house. In the Anglican tradition, Epiphany begins its own season, Epiphanytide, focusing on the ways Christ is revealed to the world. The season ends on February 2nd, with the celebration of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple.

Auch diese drei Heiligen Könige sind gestern durch Sölde gezogen.

In researching the practice, I found out that there is whole tradition in Europe that celebrates Epiphany and the CMB blessing. It is called the Star Singers, or sternsinger. Over 300,000 boys and girls in Germany alone dress up as the Magi and sing from house to house raising awareness and money for issues regarding the suffering of children globally. Last year, they raised $48 million. This German movement is now in its 58th year and for 2016 is highlighting poverty in Bolivia under the motto “Respect – for you, for me, for others.”

If you are looking for a way to close the Christmas season, and look ahead into the new year, find some chalk and write the Epiphany blessing 20+C+M+B+16 above your front door as you pray for God’s blessing on your home and all who enter. Even more, gather some friends, kiddos, and family and chalk each others’ doors, praying and singing as you go! I will be inviting my seminary students to don crowns and carry stars, pray and sing, as they chalk the doors of the classrooms and offices. Maybe we can start Star Singing in our communities, bring some beauty, fun, music, and blessing, while raising awareness of the needs of children worldwide.

Adoration of the Magi, Russian icon

Adoration of the Magi, Russian icon


Nov 14 2015

Celtic Advent Calendar

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For each day, from November 15 until Epiphany, I’ve thought of one thing I can do to practice joy and gratitude, and to give love, putting it on a calendar that draws on ancient Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany traditions.

In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter. In this age of  blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also so there can be a longer, more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.

Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) is the “O” antiphons. An antiphon, from the Latin antiphona, meaning sounding against, was a repeated line of scripture used as bookends to the psalms in daily prayer and the Eucharist. The antiphon was a prayer “sound-byte,” capturing the most important aspect of the reading, helping those gathered remember through repetition.

Trinity Episcopal Church, Myrtle Beach - O Antiphon Banners

Trinity Episcopal Church, Myrtle Beach – O Antiphon Banners

The “O” antiphons highlight a scriptural name of Christ and offer a jumping off point for reflection. Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches–as they have been for more than 1500 years–from December 17 to December 23.

Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer-culture celebration. Another lost tradition marks the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearance or manifestation and remembers the Magi visiting Jesus; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan–the public revelation that he is God’s Son; and the first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.  The period from December 25 to January 6th is an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.

Auch diese drei Heiligen Könige sind gestern durch Sölde gezogen.

On January 6th, the celebration of the Magi visiting Jesus, children dress up as the three magi carrying a star (the Sternsingers) and go singing from house to house. This practice is most popular in Germany and Austria as way of raising awareness and money for global children’s needs, but has been widely practiced in the church since the 16th century. The singers also chalk the lintel or door of each house with the blessing 20+C+M+B+16, which notes the year and carries a double meaning: CMB stands for Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar, the traditional names of the three Magi, and also a house blessing: Christus Mansionem Benedicat (Christ bless this house!). You can read more about this tradition here.

Pulling these four traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully. Here is a PDF version. Please feel free to make copies and share with your friends and church. A version without color is here; a version with larger print and without color is here. If you need any other document versions, please email me at susan(at)contemplativecottage(dot)com.

The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.

Let the Holy Spirit lead!

(a yearly updated post from the archives)


Sep 6 2015

Creating a Scripture Study Legacy

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This past summer, I shifted my approach to studying scripture on an extremely practical level in hopes of finding a way to capture my engagement with a specific book or passage each time I read it, and keep that study for future reflection.

For years, I’ve simply used an NRSV pew bible with minimal notes and a journal to record insights. In the bible, I note the date each time I read a passage, giving me a wonderful record over the years. My three bibles record dates from 1988 to 2015, and for some passages, like Proverbs 31 (describing a most fabulous, creative, diligent, wise business woman), dates upon dates.

The book of Ephesians, which the Holy Spirit has kept me anchored in for the past five years, is another one that shows consistent engagement.

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While my two previous study bibles finally fell apart due to poor bindings, my current one is still intact, yet has become uninviting for new underlinings and notes.

The journal record of my study is also not easily organized, as they are mixed in with the days’ musings. My goal was to find a simple way to collect my study notes, commentary gleanings, Greek word studies, prayers, and insights with the text itself, and in a way that can be filed for future reflection.

Feline Lectio

While I love the latest and greatest technology and know that software, such as Logos, offers digital ways to study, the price tag is daunting. Even more, I know that I learn better when I have a physical text to work with. Color is also important–making the page a creative, prayerful reflection as well as a reasoned meditation on the Word.

Research in cognitive studies also suggests that our brains learn by textual landmarks–where something is on the page, even where it is in relation to the whole book. The act of writing can further embed learning–physically writing out an insight in a journal or margin is more likely to remain in long-term memory, than one that is typed.

After some research, I discovered pre-printed KJV and ESV loose-leaf bibles. The wide margins seemed exactly what I hoped for, yet the price tag of $70 and the negative reviews of the thin paper stopped me. I use fountain pens and gel pens, so the paper needs to hold ink without feathering or bleed-through.

To create my own loose-leaf bible for study, I found a free Word doc of the NET bible. Other than the King James Version, the NET bible seems to be the only version on the internet that allows full printing, rather than just copyright-limited sections.  (If anyone finds others, please let me know.)

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Using a 28-pound paper with an incredibly smooth surface, I printed each book that I’m currently studying and put them in a binder. There is no need to print the whole bible. While it doesn’t allow for cognitive landmarks of where the text is in the entire canon of scripture, it still allows for mental page mapping within the context of the specific book.

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With a free resource like BibleHub.com, I can look at the interlinear Hebrew or Greek, recording key words with the text, have any number of commentaries open on my desk, and capture everything in one place, all the while staying close to the text itself.

So far, the experiment has been a success. One unexpected thing I’ve discovered using this format is that that blank margins invite insights and commentary–it actually encourages me to study. It allows me to approach the passage fresh, to hear what the Spirit is saying today.

I still love my well-loved and marked up bible–it’s a record of God’s faithfulness to speak through His word for 15 years.  I still use my current bible for church and to record dates when I wrestle with a passage (it’s especially powerful when a verse comes to mind and find that I had looked at it on the same date years prior.)

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I still have my two falling-apart former bibles on my shelf and occasionally take them down to smell their pages and go back in time through the notes of a young college freshman just falling in love with scripture. At the times in the past decade when I’ve lost my love of scripture, prayer, even God, God has called me back through their witness.

A bound bible is a legacy, but this new approach offers me a different form of legacy: to study, file away the notes, and over time collect multiple readings for comparing, contrasting, and deepening my personal experience of the text, and making it easier to share in teaching and discipleship.

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