Jul 28 2011

Hidden Abundance

In both Anne of Avonlea and Little Women there are similar scenes I find beautiful: the poignant moments Anne and Jo decide to write about what they love. Sitting at a candle-lit desk, the sounds of the house stilled in sleep, Jo gets out a clean sheet of paper and simply begins. The pages stack up over time and are finally tied together with ribbon (yes, the ultimate romantic touch) and sent away.

The message is clear: write what you love, let it go, and leave everything else to off-stage resolution.

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My most recent response to questions about my dissertation has been to cite total number of pages written: 55.  The page-count mantra is more me telling myself, “Look! You’re almost a third of the way through!”

Since I’m handwriting this 1st draft, the slow accumulation of a stack of pages also connects me to my writing heroines.  I wonder if my adviser would appreciate me sending her a tied, handwritten draft.

Oh, right. For a moment I forgot it’s the 21st century.

But still, still, even with some sprinkles of writing romance, I’ve wrestled with a (perceived) loss of words (and loss of interest in them), words that came so easily 10 years ago, words and joy that went missing after exams and the often barren environment of doctoral education. Words I betrayed by turning a harsh and condemning gaze upon them, judging them not good enough.

TS Elliott says that words crack under the weight of meaning. What about the weight of expectations?

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The words come from my heart, and my heart went quiet in the face of so much self-criticism.

But, I’ve been reminded quite clearly today, my words are not so dammed as I’ve believed. (Ah, the revealing nature of word choice.)

My dear friend Doug said something to me last week that I took to heart: Don’t focus on your weaknesses, don’t try to change them.  Focus on your strengths.

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I got out my journals–the writing project I do without even thinking about it as writing–and, factoring in page size and a conservative estimate of handwritten words per page, I’ve written over 130 pages since January.

Love, frustration, wrestling, friendship, joy, sadness.  The story of a life.

Easily 3000 pages since I began in 1986.

I’ve spent so much time focused on scarcity, I missed the abundance.

The words are still there. They never left.

What changed was only my perception of them.

What abundance longs to be noticed in your life?  What gift do you ignore because it is like breathing? What strength is inviting you to give it some loving attention?


Feb 11 2010

This Moment

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Outside my window…brilliant blue sky, bare tree branches, and a large squirrel condo, toasty warm with lint from a dryer vent  stuffed between the twigs.  The three youngins haven’t been out to play yet.

Thinking…as I sit surrounded by yummy books, that the challenge to pay attention and concentrate has little to do with external circumstances.  It is a constant exercise to still my brain in patience and dive deeply, one at a time.

Thankful for…joy in conversations today, a little more peace with memories, and a growing sense of hope.

Praying for…the children of Haiti who have lost their parents.  Lord, bring them into families and communities who will love and care for them.

Creating…my prospectus, still, plus emails and conversations and a couple of day dreams.

Hoping…for 5 more pages written by the end of today.

Going…to plan some events for my birthday year (40 needs more than a day to celebrate).

Reading…lots of books on prayer–Karl Barth, Marjorie Suchocki, Eugene Peterson.

Hearing…the clinking and clanking of the radiators and the whoosh of high winds.

Around the office…it is quiet enough to almost hear the whispering books.

Favorite thing…reading and pondering a beautiful line by Ann Voscamp:

“And they can build monuments and they can make millions and they can write memoirs but this is what lasts, this is what goes on forever and ever and will endure times and winds and all the ages. Heaven and love and Jesus. And there is such a thing as too much money and too much sun and too much of a good thing, but this world has only one thing that there can never be enough of: there is no such thing as too much love. And they may not etch it on memorial stone, but granite erodes and quiet people know it so we get up every day and we make the porridge and wash the underwear and pay the bills and tend to the hurting and we etch the love on the hearts, that which beats on without end and we pulse throughout the universe. There’s a way to do work that lasts forever. Just do everything with love.”

Post inspired by http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com


Jan 28 2010

This Moment

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Outside my window…snows a mini-blizzard, millions of little flakes churning against the white sky.

Thinking…that solitude and quiet is both a deep blessing, but also a challenge to use well.

Thankful for…my parents, with whom I just talked on the phone.

From the kitchen…rice wrap burrito with cheese and roasted salsa, and irish breakfast tea.

Creating…my prospectus, 15 pages on why I want to write my dissertation on prayer, study,  and theological education.

Going…to finish a draft of my proposal by Sunday. (I hope!)

Reading…lots of books on prayer, and expecting another stack to arrive today.

Hoping…for wisdom and guidance (and strength) about moving in May…Seattle or Texas?

Hearing…occasional cars shwoosh by, wet tires on the road.

Around the house…all is quiet, it is times like these I miss my days as a foster kitty mom.

Favorite thing…reading today a lovely, wonderful quote by Frederick Buechner:

“Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity… that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

Post inspired by http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com


Jan 2 2010

Making a Gratitude Journal

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My recent posts have centered around two themes: gratitude and memory, the two areas I believe God is leading me to focus on for 2010. In this time between Christmas and Epiphany, the traditional twelve days of Christmas, I have been working on a gratitude journal where I’m recording both my One Thousand Gifts list (an edited version is on-line here), and memories of joy which come to mind as I review my life.

Just in the short time of making the list, I have found that I’m beginning to look forward to the time I spend reviewing the day.  Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it takes a little digging.

Making the Journal

I selected some magazines for images and patterned craft paper my dad gave me to decorate the cover and each page:

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(My own tastes lean toward nature photography, flowers, and victoriana, but a journal could easily be crafted differently.)

During the course of the afternoon, my mom came in to see how it was coming along.  One magazine, The Girlhood Home Companion, had some paper dolls in the back, which led to my mom delightedly telling me about her afternoons as a child (before Barbie) cutting out paper dolls.

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And the finished journal:

Gratitude Journal

Dec 19 2009

Anamnesis

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As I look at the beautiful Christmas tree here at my parent’s home, hung with 40 years of memories, I’m struck by how this tree is like memory itself.  Hidden among the branches and tinsel, illuminated by twinkle lights or lost in shadows, little ornaments of past delight wait to be rediscovered, re-remembered, and enjoyed anew.

St Thomas Aquinas wrote that joy is delight remembered.

Reading about the human brain and how memory is formed, I have been surprised by its fragility.  Barring the painful memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or injury,  normal events making the trek from experience to working memory into long-term memory require certain key conditions or the brain will not store the information in any retrievable fashion.   Even strong memories can still be lost as long-term memory remains in flux for over a decade. The more sensory and emotional connections made with an experience, the greater the chance it will stick around; the more it is actively recalled and in a sense, re-experienced, the greater the chance it will solidify into long-term memory.

Some people spend more of their time thinking about the future or the present, I tend to think more about the past, and I often return over and over to certain memories.

As I’ve been rediscovering prayer this past year and asking difficult questions about vocation (and the future), God has been gently, yet insistently, showing me that the majority of the memories I frequently revisit are marked with sadness and shame, rather than joy or grace.    While I often find joy in the present, it doesn’t seem to make it into my long-term memory.  With a tinge of Jonah-like frustration at God, I complained, “Well, this is what I remember, so help me remember something else!”

The word anamnesis came to mind. Not exactly a word I would casually…well, remember.

Liturgically, it refers to the part of the Eucharistic prayer recalling the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

Anamnesis means more than to simply remember or reminisce, it means to remember something forgotten.

To remember what was forgotten seems paradoxical and feels impossible, so I figure it must only be possible with the help of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus described as the Comforter, who will “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)

As I walk this journey of Advent and come to the end of 2009, I long for a loss of forgetfulness, to remember (maybe even for the first time) all the many times God spoke grace, love, and joy in experiences and through others, and to feel them as deeply as I feel the not-so pleasant memories.  I long to stop traveling the roads that lead to feelings of sadness and shame. Even better, I want to remember whole stories from the past, not just the difficult parts, and pray for insight into how grace, God’s “I love you,” was present even in painful times.

A way I’d like to begin this exploration of the fragile, wonderful, complex gift of graced human memory and memory-making is to create a weekly blog practice called Anamnesis, and invite you to join in.  If you have remembered a forgotten moment of joy or grace, and would like to share it, include your blog link below or add a comment.

Peace to you on your journey through Advent!

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