Sep 26 2018

Ordinary World

My students are reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. A delightful, restful book, she ties the daily activities of waking up and making beds and brushing teeth to the wider liturgical patterns that mark our lives as disciples. The simplicity of her prose and the grace she approaches our foibles is like a summer rain on a thirsty garden. I find myself looking anew at all the practices of my life, ways that I’ve always looked, but forgotten in the rush and busyness of long days and yeses to too many tasks. We need reminders. We need voices that invite us to slow down and pay attention.

Annie Dillard’s quote, found many times in these blog pages in the past 10 years, has jumped out at me repeatedly this past week: from Tish’s book, websites, other articles, lectures I’m giving, and my own journal:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The Contemplative Cottage represents the way I hope to spend my days and, ultimately, my life. It is more than a house, but a way to pay attention to the ordinary things of life and see their beauty and experience them as means of grace.

But even in a life that is filled with teaching theology and reading and pondering how to make space for God, the very teaching and reading and pondering can fill that space. The performance aspect of teaching and productive drive toward scholarly work make the focus on daily life in the Cottage, well…quite ordinary. And I have found myself asking, is it enough? Are just simple reflections on attending deeply to life enough?

Yes.

Because it is in the ordinary, the daily, the little practices, beauties, and simple joys that a life is lived. The mystics call us to “follow the savor,” so sharing these moments in the Cottage allows me to savor, and invite you to attend deeply to your own life.

The air has that slight touch of chill now as October approaches, the leaves are curling, flowers fading, and the Harvest Moon hangs brightly. What could be more ordinary and more wonderful than a healing autumn soup? My friend introduced me to this recipe, which I made and then promptly made again with some adaptations. The tastes meld together–not too spicy, just enough to warm one on a cold, blustery day. The colors celebrate the brilliant yellows and reds this season brings, with a touch of dark green as summer leaves give way to autumn gold. The garlic is an excellent remedy to chills and colds, and the spicy heat will gently clear sinuses. May it nourish your body and, in the making of it, help you to celebrate ordinary beauty.

Coconut Red Curry Soup with Butternut Squash and Chard

  • 4 teaspoons of oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, pressed (or more if you like!)
  • 1 tablespoon, fresh grated ginger
  • 1 small to medium butternut squash, no skin, small chunks (about 3 cups)
  • 1 medium or 2 small limes, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of Thai Red Curry Paste
  • 1 quart of either chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tub of silken tofu (silken is important); you could use chicken, already diced and cooked.
  • 5 small chard leaves, chopped (small is about 10 inches)
  • 1-14 ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley

Cut squash in long halves, clean out seeds, then microwave for 10 minutes, or until the skin is easily removed. Let cool and then cut into small chunks.

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger for 5-7 minutes. Add lime zest, turmeric, salt, and curry paste, and stir. Stop and savor the smell as the different ingredients come together.

Pour in stock, stir. Add squash and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in loosely diced silken tofu (I dice it in the tub–it will fall apart anyway), chopped chard leaves, and coconut milk. Warm through, about 5 minutes. Add cilantro (or flat leaf parsley), and lime juice (very important!). Stir and let mingle for about 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

 

Painting by Carl Vilhelm Halsoe (1863-1935)

Apr 6 2018

Friday Florilegium

From the margins of a 9th century manuscript comes today’s Florilegium: the joyful poem by an unnamed Irish monk about his cat, Pangur Bán. (Some of you will recognize this name from the lovely and haunting Secret of Kells).

The Scholar and His Cat, Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Translated from the Irish by Robin Flowers


Nov 12 2017

Observing Celtic Advent & Liturgical Time

 

Myrrh_Bearing_Women

The Myrrh-Bearing Women, witnesses to the Resurrection, celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter

I studied for my MDiv at a school embedded in a monastic community. Each day, we gathered for prayer under the guidance of the church calendar. Time itself was caught up like a thread and woven into the recurring round of seasons, feast days, memorials, and observances. Liturgical time became a reminder that the Kingdom was at hand and we could not help but remember the centuries of disciples gone before. And God was weaving each of our timelines into the Story for future generations.

I wondered: what is the design God is weaving with me?

Even the way dates were named changed. Sunday, November 12, would become the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (or for the Anglicans and Presbyterians among us, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost). After a few months of hearing the date proclaimed in this way,  my own internal sense of time and seasons began to shift. One day as I began to journal, I started to write the liturgical date, so natural it had become. The relationship between human time and God’s story of redemption intertwined.

presentation Bénédite de la Roncière

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, February 2

At the Contemplative Cottage, the seasons are represented by icons and symbols that call to mind the particular story remembered. The Orthodox tradition brings to the Body of Christ rich gifts of visual images for this specific use–icons honoring the many feasts and observances, windows to the wider reality of Kingdom life. The icons help us remember the great cloud of witnesses and each thread of their lives woven as a testimony to us today. On a particular day or throughout a season, an icon or symbol takes a more prominent place in the house, and a bouquet of flowers or candle might mark it.

mary tells the disciples

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, July 22

Observing Celtic Advent at the Contemplative Cottage is a way for me to recover a more contemplative and prayerful focus between Thanksgiving and Epiphany. The early Celtic Christians observed 40 days of Advent as a preparation for the Lord’s Nativity, mirroring the 40 days of Lent. This practice begins on November 15. Not unlike Advent calendars which count down the traditional 4 weeks before Christmas, the Celtic Advent Calendar journeys from mid-November to Christmas. I’ve also included additional traditions of the “O Antiphons” and the “twelve days of Christmas,” ending the calendar with the chalk Epiphany Blessing (20+C+M+B+18). It anchors the busyness of this season by giving a simple activity and/or a scripture verse for reflection for each day.

Celtic Advent Calendar 2017

The observances at the Cottage and shared on this blog come from years of moving through the cycle of stories, rediscovering old traditions, reclaiming their practice, and then sharing them with others. The most challenging seasons are ones that sneak up on me–as Advent and Christmas did for so many years. The rush of the consumer holiday season (now starting with Halloween!) and the academic year often meant I missed expectantly reflecting on Christ’s birth in my life and in the world of human history.

If observing an extended preparation for and post reflection on the Nativity this year resonates with you, I’ve updated the Celtic Advent Calendar for your use. Feel free to share it with others and your wider community.

Happy 23rd Sunday after Pentecost!

Susan

If you want more ideas for living the church year in home and life, I recommend Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s lovely book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. It is out of print, but you can still get it for Kindle here

(an edited repost from the archives)

May 28 2017

Experiencing Spacious Time

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I’m honored to be a guest blogger at Presbyterian Outlook this week.

Over Easter weekend in 1999, my close friends convinced me to end my Lenten media fast a day early by going to a movie. Based on the good reviews and the promise of an enjoyable evening, I agreed.

The movie was “The Matrix.”

Advice for people who have fasted from food is to ease back into eating with a small, slow meal. After six weeks without media, “The Matrix” was like eating a five-course dinner while skydiving.

Though tame in comparison to today’s movies, the violence shocked me, even as I was captivated by the incredible story. It drove home how the Lenten fast had reset and heightened my senses. Like Neo, when he finally sees the Matrix for what it is, I realized how much immersion in screen stories had desensitized me.

Working with Young Adult Volunteers at the time, I longed to live more faithfully within the Story that God was writing. However, especially after a long day of ministry, it was easy to disappear into a show or movie. While screen stories, such as “The Matrix,” were powerful food for reflection, too much screen-time dulled my sense of participation in my own life and in the lives of those around me.

That Lenten fast was the first of many media fasts I practiced over the years. At the turn of the millennium, it was easier to set boundaries around the internet and TV.

Then everything changed.

Join me for the rest over at Presbyterian Outlook Magazine.


Nov 15 2016

Celtic Advent Begins

2017 Version is here.

Day 27 on Cultivating Sanctuary.

advent-calendar-2016-page0001

Sometimes the smallest act can have the biggest consequences. Even a small pebble creates ripples.

And this is what I’m inviting you to do for the next 40 days of Celtic Advent…

Make some ripples of beauty, joy, and love.

St John of the Cross writes, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”

Many years ago I created this calendar for Advent that suggests one simple thing you can do each day that might create a ripple of love moving out into a love-thirsty world.

You can read more about the history of this calendar in this blog post. It’s really three calendars in one, celebrating Advent, the ancient “O Antiphons” and the 12 days of Christmas.

Share widely and freely.

And for some further encouragement, here is a lovely version of the prayer of St Francis (pause the Music for Dreaming to the right >>):

Happy Advent!


Nov 8 2016

Leaving Sanctuary, Part One

Day 26 in a series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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While cultivating sanctuary space and time is incredibly important in a world where such intentional practice is often in short supply, sometimes the sanctuary itself can become a barrier.

It is so easy to take something good, an icon that invites us into a wider reality of God’s presence and kingdom, and make it into an idol, something that chains and imprisons us away from love, into self-protective habits.

When a sanctuary is functioning as an icon, our vision is open and possibilities are abundant. Peace pervades the space or the time, and the focus is on gratitude for God’s presence. Self-care boundaries are in place, but permeable and flexible, allowing for the breath of life to rhythmically flow in and out.

When a sanctuary becomes an idol, we move into guard-mode. Lock doors and shrouded windows. The world outside becomes a scary place to venture and it all seems easier to stay safe at home. This desire to stay home can be literal or metaphorical, and in my own life, I’ve experienced both temptations.

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Years ago, I was terrified to fly. My first flight was trans-atlantic to Germany and I flew many times back and forth over two decades without issue. Then I flew through a powerful thunderstorm, spending what felt like an eternity holding on as the plane climbed and then dropped sharply over and over.

Looking back, I had also just been in a serious carwreck and as trauma often does, I can see now that the two experiences merged in my psyche. From that point on, I panicked everytime I needed to fly and finally began taking the train (which gave me a love of train travel). My pastor and mentor at the time, Lynne Baab, challenged me when I said I would never fly again. She said, “You cannot promise that. You need to be prepared to go where God calls you, and that might require flying.”

She was right. While I finally found freedom from the fear, I didn’t let it stop me from traveling by air when necessary.

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And then, God called me to lead trips to Ireland each year. What I would have missed if I had remained safely on the ground!

Sanctuaries are great to come home to after an adventure or a scary experience, but not to stay in without leaving.

Crafting sanctuary in our homes and lives will only be life-giving if we are weaving beauty, peace, joy, love, and life, into them, nurturing the very gifts that the world needs; making visible in our lives and homes God’s presence and welcoming others to experience it.

When fear or anger is a thread in the making of sanctuary, the temptation to build defenses and hide within becomes strong.

If remembering to leave your sanctuary is a challenge (it can be for me, too), I offer this beautifully rendered short-film by Pixar. It captures the call to move out of our sanctuary into the world, better than words, and more joyfully.

Be at peace, Christ has overcome the world!

Susan

 

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