Brokenness and beauty

Today is my last day of nannying. It’s sort of hard to believe. After five months, I’m pretty used to spending 9-ish hours every weekday in someone else’s house with someone else’s kids, kids I’ve now befriended. I won’t miss changing diapers or dealing with tantrums or cleaning up crazy messes, and I won’t miss my 6:40 alarm or never getting home before 6pm, but I will miss this quirky and lovable family. (Not too badly; I’m still getting birthday party invitations, babysitting jobs, and emergency nanny calls…)

Since I’ve had a busy week (after all, I am still nannying full-time at the moment), I’m reposting something from last year. I wrote it in the aftermath of another period of natural disaster, and it’s been on my mind as I’ve seen pictures and heard stories from Oklahoma.

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Breaking the glass (originally posted March 5, 2012)

Stained glass at San Diego Maritime Museum; image available in public domain

My part of the country has been in the news as early-March tornadoes tore across the southern Midwest. I live north of all the storm damage, but parts of southern Indiana—in my diocese—are reeling from the destruction of the storm, and our interim rector is from the Diocese of Kentucky, which is also dealing with storm damage. These storms left trails of death and destruction across states. (For readers interested in helping with disaster relief efforts, there’s some information on the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis’s Facebook page, and the American Red Cross is active in relief efforts).

Facing news like this is always difficult for me. I can drop food or clothing at a donation site, or send a check to ERD. God knows I pray. When it comes down to it, though, I’m faced with a distinct inability to do anything that will make much of a difference. Even if I emptied the measly contents of my checking account, even if I packed up and drove to Henryville to find some way to help, people still lost belongings, homes, and loved ones. I can’t change that. And there will be another disaster to reckon with next month, next week, tomorrow.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to try to tackle the problem of evil in a single blog post. I’ll save that for another day. Lent, though, is a fitting time to think about death, pain, and the bad things that happen. What does it mean to be a Christian in a world where bad things happen?

It’s difficult to be with people in pain, as my priest reminded in her homily yesterday morning. It’s difficult because sometimes things are not okay. Sometimes bad things happen to really great people and there is no silver lining, escape hatch, or happy ending. Sometimes everything shatters, and we have to believe—“hoping against hope” in the word of yesterday’s Romans reading—that God will be there to pick up the pieces, and to put them together into something even more beautiful.

Where I sit in the choir—on the Epistle side, in the chancel (how’s that for fancy Episcopalian vocab?)—when I’m looking straight ahead I’m not looking at the altar, but at the organ, the pulpit, and the West-facing windows. My church building is old, and has some really beautiful stained glass. The jeweled rainbow of glass pieces—cobalt, violet, gold, scarlet—fit together to create light-catching pictures—St. Cecilia with her organ, the Spirit-as-dove descending, flowers and hands and intricate patterns.

Sometimes, things come together at just the right moment. As I sat listening to that homily and letting my gaze wash over the familiar patterns of glass pieces, I thought—the glass has to be broken.

Stained glass, in its un-windowed form, comes in panes like any other glass. It has to be cut—broken—to be leaded into a patterned window like those that dapple my church with rainbow-colored sunlight. In other words, all those magnificent windows are really just shattered glass, masterfully arranged.

Panes of colored glass may seem nice enough as they are (in fact, the “stained glass” in my childhood church consists of nothing more than large squares and rectangles of pastel-tinted glass), but when they’re broken into pieces and soldered together they’re transformed into works of art. This is a violent process—cutting and soldering. The artist, too, experiences the violence. Glass doesn’t cut neatly; it splinters into shards that cut and pierce and burrow into unprotected hands. Lead, the traditional metal for soldering, is poisonous. The creation of stained glass is messy, painful work, but the results are stunning.

There are no platitudes to give those who lost everything in last week’s tornadoes—or to anyone else reeling from loss or disappointment—and it’s hard to imagine anything beautiful rising out of the ruins, out of the ashes. With Abraham, though, I will try to hope against hope for something like stained glass.

Will you join me?

When the inspiration well is dry

honorsproject

So remember last week when I was all like, “I’m blogging again, hooray!”? Well, after I posted that, I started thinking shoooooot I don’t know what to write about. In fact, I think I’ve forgotten how writing works.

That’s not true. I know there’s plenty I could write about. I know that when I actually sit down and put in some effort, writing usually comes out (not always good writing, but, y’know…). But I certainly haven’t been on fire to writing anything this week. Mostly I’ve been on fire to eat bagels with cream cheese and catch up on Nashville episodes.

You could call this writer’s block; a form of it, anyway. I know about writer’s block. I have two English degrees. I’ve written everything from poems to features articles to conference papers to a masters thesis, and I’ve hit roadblocks for every one. I learned all kinds of “cures” for writer’s block—including, the dark recesses of my memory tell me, something about a wooden block that one might put in the dishwasher. I also learned the value in the rule of thumb that writing begets writing. (Which is really good advice because, you know, you can get all the snacks you want and clean all the bathrooms you want but you’re not going to get any writing done without putting words on a page.)

And so when I’m not inspired to write a beautiful, remarkable blog post, and would rather browse Etsy or NoiseTrade, I sit down and start writing, and then I make the connection that—hey—this is a lot like prayer! Maybe there are some folks out there who are always feeling really inspired and on fire about their prayer lives. Well, good for you, people. I have lots of days when I would much rather toast bagels and watch television. Days when prayer feels like a chore, and a pointless one at that. Days when the inspiration well is dry.

Sometimes, on those days, I do skip praying and watch TV instead. (Sometimes I read a book instead and find out that I really am praying after all, but that’s another story for another time.) More often, though, I go through the motions of some kind of prayer practice (that’s why the BCP is so darn handy sometimes), because I’m convinced that praying begets praying. Getting started is the hard part, especially when you don’t feel like it.

Dame Julian of Norwich, in her Revelations of Divine Love writes, “Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.” And so I go on praying even when I don’t feel like praying and writing even though I don’t feel like writing, and I trust and hope that something will come of it. Maybe not the most beautiful writing or the most beautiful praying, but perhaps just the praying or writing I needed.

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What do you do when the inspiration well has run dry? Do you have any tried-and-true cures for writer’s block? For prayer’s block? 

Back in blogland

Well, friends, it’s been a while. The last few months have been something of a whirlwind—lots and lots of changes, a busy schedule. As it turns out, after 6.5 years of the flexibility that comes with academic schedules, working roughly 50 hours a week (and without a lunch break—I’m a nanny, so I can’t just take off in the middle of the day) feels like a major cramp on my scheduling style. These have been good months, though. I didn’t keep up with my something-new-every-day Tumblr (I told you I’m bad with New Year’s resolutions), but I definitely didn’t give up on trying plenty of new things—I’ve had a really rich few months.

A couple of the new things coloring my months have been distinctly episcotheque-y:

Remember when I mentioned the Diocese of Indianapolis forming a task force to talk about structure (based on the national church’s decision to do the same), and linked over to Brendan O’Sullivan Hale’s blog? (The last time I was “back again” on the blog…) Well, now I’m on that task force (dubbed the Diocesan Reimagining Task Force) along with Brendan and a crew of other really amazing people. We met for the first time at Waycross (our diocese’s ECCC, a really, really great place), and I’m really inspired by each and every person in the group.

Also: I’ve been pretty quiet about this, but I think many or most of you already know (or have assumed) from conversations we’ve had or things I’ve said: I’m in the discernment process toward the Episcopal priesthood. I’m still discerning; I’m not a postulant or seminarian (I’m an aspirant, if you’re all about words and labels and categorization), and I’ll probably remain fairly quiet about the process in this space, unless there’s any Very Important News to report. This process does, though, definitely influence how I think about the questions I tackle on this blog.

All to say, I’m back, or trying to be. I have a couple more weeks of nanny-insanity (I just like how that kind of rhymes), and then just your regular, run-of-the-mill insanity. I’m doing some other writing projects alongside the blog, and I’m about to (I hope) win my bread by contract-based copyediting. Insanity. But, we’ll see. I’m aiming for once-a-week posts, so that I can ease back in (hooray for possibly-manageable goals!).

To those of you who’ve been patient and stuck with me: thank you. To new readers: welcome.

Well, here goes!

Don’t read this, read that: meditatingpriest

People. I have been crazy busy (even the Tumblr hasn’t been tumbling). I will tell you all about it soon. Really. I just have to figure out how to work blog-writing into this 50-hour-a-week nannying gig that has become my life.

In the meantime, I have another blog for you. Remember when I pointed you to Joel’s awesome blog for thoughtful commentary, witty writing, and photos of Ezra Klein? So you know I won’t steer you wrong.

My priest, Hilary, is on sabbatical in France with her husband and school-age sons, and she’s blogging the experience. Her posts are funny, beautiful, and insightful, and you should go read them all. She’s also trying a new cheese every day and recording that, which is pretty much the best idea ever.

Patience

Those of you who’ve been following for a while know how my writing tends to drop off when I’m busy or stressed. My last couple of weeks have been full of driving, starting a new job (sort of, maybe…), and trying not to get sick. In my spare time, I sleep. So I’ll be back soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been keeping up with my Tumblr (the entries are a lot shorter and require less thought), so you can check that out.

Something new every day

coffee

So, I’m usually not much for New Year’s resolutions, but this year I thought, “Why not?”—mostly thanks to the Rev. Hillary Raining. Her resolution a couple of years ago was to try something new every day, and then she blogged those things here.

I liked the idea, so I’m jumping on board—I’m going to try to do something new every day this year. Because it sounds like an adventure, and because I think trying new things is an important part of remaining open to new experiences. I’m not in a rut—I’m already doing lots of new things in this transition period of my life, but this seemed like a fun and inviting challenge, so I’m jumping in.

I’m not going to blog my new things here, but I started a Tumblr (look at me, with my blogs), and I’m going to try to post every new thing I do/try every day, ideally with a photo. I probably won’t get all 365, I may not make it past January, but I’ll see where this experiment takes me, and you’re welcome to come along.

If you have any ideas for new things I should try, post them in the comments section!

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Do you have a New Year’s resolution this year? Are you in the habit of making them?