on yellow leaves & words in the wind.

The official tour of the Divinity School ends, and I wander across the street to the glory of the sprawling Duke gardens. I wander and wonder. I pace beneath a tree heavy with shocking yellow sharp against the crisp blue sky, almost as azure as the one in New Mexico. Chest tight, teeth grit.

And if peace can hurry, it came in like a rushing wind. Or maybe it snuck in like a breath; I’m not sure.

Four months later, the letter came. The tears, the heart set to burst with so much right.

Then I lost the letter. Then I lost track of time. Then I counted down and realized that there are only so many sunsets left in this wonk-town, the cushion of this little year dissolving before me. The thought of leaving home after home left me aches in the ten minutes of extra darkness that keeps me in bed that much longer; I refuse to stir until hope peeks through the blinds.

I told someone recently that a big part of me wants to be free of all these anchors. I’m realizing again, that this means I must be pushed out to sea.

1,200 miles away, I return often to that space beneath all that golden canopy, to walk the carpet gilt. I wait to find the wind, my heartbeat then–again. The calm of that certainty, the terror of it, too.

The single leaf arrests me, arrested, at the end of a branch.

How difficult it must be to be so much beauty only in order to fall, to fall only to make way for newness of life?

But perhaps, no matter what sky you’re under, this is the great glory:

to make room for Resurrection.

No matter how small.

twenty-twelve debrief: part one.

 debrief (v).

to comb over the events within a given amount of time (i.e. a day, a year, a singular social event.) to locate the highlights, the dark moments, the shoulda-woulda-couldas, the parts that are already a part of what is unmistakably you. distinct from a crippling nostalgia. to cup the past in your hands and breathe. in. everything. [a term usually used by Erica and me; (among other primarily female counterparts? theory untested)]

This year started as the last one ended–with extremely strong painkillers, prescribed for tooth pain that started Christmas Eve.

Sexy, huh?

I only mention it because the work I had done on my teeth spanning the next four months or so required my driving from Waco to Dallas every other weekend, meaning that I spent more time at home my last semester of college than any other. With my family now (and probably forever) living another time zone away, I’m glad I got some good weekends in with my family, especially during some of our most uncertain months as a family.

[One such weekend, I devoured Lauren Winner’s Still on iBooks as soon as it was released, in a half-Novocained stupor. I fangirled all over her google search, and found out she had just been appointed as a professor at Duke Divinity School.  I spent hours on their website, but was too drugged or too much in denial to give credence to anything more than a passing curiosity. ]

Sometime in January, I was not selected to join the Teach for America crew. [You get news like this via email these days, so you’re stuck wherever you are receiving life-altering pieces of information.] I was in public, but alone. Upon reading the first line of “we’re sorry, but…” I realized that I hadn’t applied with the purest of intentions. I do have a passion for the types of communities TFA serves. I do think I would do well in them. (And have.) But the two-year security blanket of the program and the prospect of picking up and leaving for an adventure muffled out everything else that told me this wasn’t it. With the email staring back at me, and my phone buzzing with consolatory text messages, I breathed a feeble, panicked thanks. And hoped that something would happen to get me out of Waco. 

I spent most of my last semester in yoga pants. As soon as I try to defend myself by citing my yoga class, I’ll admit to you that it was a once-a-week audit. But then, Preston and I decided to take a few other easy classes to make this last semester ohso easy, too. Ha. Haha. Hahahaha. Ceramics I almost kicked our non-art-major butts with hours out-of-class coiling, and maybe there was a 11 pm run to the library to practice knot-tying for Backpacking and Camping during the most stressful week of the semester. What. But I think in making we learned about our Maker, and some days the arm-waving treks across campus and the obnoxiously loud discussions of saints and liturgy flecked with clay are the things I absolutely miss the most about this slice of my past life.

[OK. And impromptu taco runs. And Wednesday wine at twilight and midnight grocery trips for bread with the guys.  There were also the hard nights: drives into the darkness and sad margarita toasts and angry orders of chips and salsa. We each took turns with one another, really. I oddly miss these, too. The strange mosaic.]

And then there was Great Texts capstone class. Nothing brought our weird little group of majors closer to tears or to laughter (or together) quicker than Brooks 170 at 9:30 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Just imagine a tiny group of smart-asses at the end of their academic rope, paired with the most infuriatingly even-tempered, pastoral professor with a penchant for correcting our sloppy word choice and logical failures. Yup. But sometimes there were doughnuts, always there was coffee and a lot of camaraderie and grace. These things make a difference. I think that small room and small group of people will be with me always. I’m not sure I can do it justice.

[I still wore yoga pants on those days. With no excuse. Senioritis, yes. Semester-long existential crisis? Also yes.]

And then there was that one day you might already know about. A back-porch intimation that I was to stay in Waco for the next year. It was something of an answer, yes, but I kept wearing yoga pants 24/7. Even to a job interview.

[I needed intervention.]

Preston found out he got into St. Andrews an ocean away. I cried.

Erica decided to stay in Waco longer, too. I cried.

I kept counting the staying friends and the leaving friends. More irrational tears.

More days without real pants.

To be continued. Read part two here.

Depressing stuff, huh? I promise it wasn’t as dark as all that. I’ll fill in more later, but as this recap is getting longer than I expected, this is as good a place to stop as any. 

Also, do you use the word ‘debrief’ as I have ‘defined’ it above?

a hiatus and a hopeful start.

All nerves and a trying-too-hard accent scarf, I lock my eyes on the question in my lap: “What life experiences or crises have shaped or changed the way you read the Bible?” as I blurt with a tongue prompted oddly by Spirit, “Well, right now.” I tuck my legs more firmly into the chair and sit on my hands, like a small child.

This is not normally an issue for me–the talking in front of people, the new faces. I am a people-person, an extrovert, a charmer.

But somehow, that’s not how it works today. Today, I fought the feeling that I need to go, that this showing up may be a part of my staying to follow. I got in my car, turned the key, and half-sped to the church parking lot, still arriving late. Maybe it’s the lateness that makes me overly aware of how loud I am breathing, the tempo of my speech, the flush of my ears. Maybe.

In the circle, I babble about the gap year, the discernment, the listening, the faithfulness question, the staying, all in halted piecemeal, without the grace of hyperlink or draft. I just say it’s happening, the changing of approach. The heart I bring to scripture is different than it was even a few months ago. When I bring it at all, I add silently.

Part of the shaping I am fighting of late is the feet-dragging.

The first time I really confessed this aloud was under a taco stand awning a few weeks ago, after he made a passing half-joke about his “quiet time with Jesus.”  [It’s a phrase we’ve both heard a lot. It needs changing, I think.] He nodded, knowing this means something to me. For a long time I actively avoided reading the Bible on a regular basis because I had heard one too many sermons on turning devotion into a checklist. Not me, I had said, in favor of total spontaneity, which at the time sounded like the most loving way. Last spring, that changed. Some strange combination of class and books and friends and Holy Ghost helped me realize that there was something missing, and it was scripture.

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ Himself, I read somewhere.

I think the Incarnation means that this is not the end of it, that there are manifold ways He reveals Himself [ten thousand places, even]. But finally I knew that there was something about the words on the page to teach me about the Word, something about the stories that would teach me about who He is. Go figure.

That said, I haven’t touched the stuff in weeks.

Except on Sundays when someone says, The word of the Lord, and I respond with the rest, thanks be to God. 

Some thanks.

In a letter from a beloved longtime friend this week, she writes about a recent revelation: that her perpetual busy-ness is a method of avoidance. What am I avoiding? she asks, guessing at Confession, wondering at more. Reading this, I smiled with love, because it’s been true for a long while now. Stopping, I consider, But it’s never been true for me. Until now.

The whats of avoidance I have a guess at. It’s finding out the whys that terrify me.

If I had to guess, it’s something to do with trust, with fear, with a wounded spirit.

And in the midst of transitional uncertainty, I find that approaching a Book of which I know so little daunting to say the least. I’m not sure what I will find.

Now I’ve trailed off at the end of what has turned into Sharing Time, and I find the young priest beside me nodding, along with some of the older students in the room.

“The Bible can be hard to turn to when you are trying to listen. After all, it’s full of people hearing things they don’t want to hear.”

That too. 

She glances around the room, and says, “Well, maybe this is a good place to live some of that story together.”

That may be.

When it comes time to pray, I find out, with terror, that we are supposed to pray our requests aloud, around the circle.

Friends can tell you I have a hard time with praying in front of people anyway. (I hope it’s something I get over some day, much like my former issues with talking on the phone.) Not to mention that “prayer request time” has always looked way different to me.

But praying for myself, my world, with everyone listening? Goodness.

Of course I’m up first.

Embedded in the halted, shaky litany was one of the most honest things I’ve prayed in a while: Help me to follow You instead of my own rebellious heart. 

We say our Ah-mens, and the young priest rushes out to process in Rite I.

I pick up my “Book of Mark Bible Study” packet, thinking, maybe beginning again doesn’t have to be so hard.

the stones i stood on firmly.

It happened in an instant.

One minute, the Isrealites are crossing the river, the next, half a glass of Merlot has spilled all over the open lectionary pages of the prayer book. Deep pigment rolls across the scripture references and finally settles in deep. In an odd irrational moment of panic at the potential ruin, I don’t know whether to cry, to Instagram, or to whisper the words that bubble to the surface: “This is my blood of the New Covenant, shed for you and for many…”

Soon, the laughter takes over, especially as I consider how Past Self might react to this little scene. I reach for towels as the reality of the light brown carpet takes over. Carefully separating and drying the pages, something occurs to me. It was during Ordinary Time, wasn’t it? July, even.

I check my app purchases for proof—one of many ways we perform personal archaeology in this age—and discover I’m mostly right. Just over a year ago, I downloaded a Morning and Evening Prayer iPad application.

That summer, I had read a blogpost or two about the Church calendar, maybe a blurb from Phyllis Tickle about Ordinary Time. A strand of something about the Daily Office. So I found Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God in the wrong section of the bookstore and bought it because it was structured around the liturgical year. I downloaded that app.

The summer before that, I scrawled somewhere, who knew reading these saint guys could soften my heart again? after walking through a bit of Bonaventure by recommendation.

Now, I’m soaking up wine from a second-hand prayer book at 11 pm, trying to remember it all, thinking of that line of narration from Beasts of the Southern Wild: I see everything that made me, flying around in invisible pieces. These pieces that conspired in grace to bring me to this moment, carrying my footsteps to places I didn’t even know I was venturing, destinations I did not plan.

Quietly, I also realize that this means it might not always be quite this way.

Yes, somewhere in the midst of the now and forever, Amens, the apportioned readings, and the liturgy, the Holy Spirit made these dry bones breathe and live and know Him as Lord again. Somehow these rhythms of worship feel like a heartbeat, new to me though they may be.

But the honest truth is that I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Many parts of my life are shifting, and so I’m reminded that someday it could mean this bit, too. Depending on where I am and what I am doing, my worship may need to change, my habits alter. I am not sure what it will all look like. When I jump the gun and think about The Rest of My Life, I wonder if I am laying brick or pitching a tent.

I finish the Old Testament reading for the almost-finished day as the wet book flutters under a fan. The LORD commands that stones be taken “from the midst of the Jordan, from where the priest’s feet stood firmly,” that they may build a memorial, a sign of His hand that held the waters of the Jordan so His people could pass through.

 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’  then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

I think of the books and blogposts and blurbs I mentioned before, the pieces that brought me here. I think of the prayers and the saints, the liturgy and the hymns.

These are the stones, I think, these are the stones I have stood on firmly.

And so in times to come, if I approach another river, wherever that may be, I pray that I am able to look at these stones and know what they mean: that there was once dry ground and once a Mighty Hand to hold the waters back, so I could and will pass through.

and so i stay to follow.

“But didn’t you say just a moment ago that you had prayed for this kind of clarity? For an answer?”

I catch my breath in the middle of my monologue about “hearing God’s voice.” It’s a late Thursday night in February and I’m barefoot, on the phone with my teacher-turned-friend Bonnie, who has interrupted me with her candor as I pace the prettiest strip of campus.

I had just told her about a conversation with a friend about following well, about the fact that I am utterly clueless about any kind of post-grad plan:

“I want to be obedient,” I told this other friend (and even thought I meant it), “I want to go where I’m supposed to.” I paused to think of the scene in the second book of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, as his Green Lady character remarks on the divine command to stay away from the grounded “Fixed Island;”

“If I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island, I do not know how to make it about [God.] For if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the air so we cannot breathe it.”

As it is, I do not know how to make the story about Him, thinking as I continued,

“But I’m not sure what direction to step in. How am I supposed to obey if I don’t know what to do?”

Until Bonnie pointed it out, I somehow hadn’t seen the connection between that conversation and the one I’m currently having, bare toes prodding the decorative lettuce somebody decided would beautify the place. As it clicks into place, I realize that perhaps the best and hardest thing about friendship is that you get called on your crap a lot more often than alone, more often than you would like.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” I answer her finally.

So why am I freaking out about this?

Because God doesn’t just straight-up, as-close-to-audible-as-you-can-get, talk to you on the back porch of the coffee shop that doubles as your second home when you’re reading Luther of all people, telling you to stay in Waco of all places, for the sake of that Episcopal parish, of all things.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen, right? First of all, I’d have to get over the phrasing of “God told me.”

Really? He did? Well that’s nice.

And if He was going to tell me something, wouldn’t it be to, you know, do something else, maybe something bigger? More specific? Like plant a church, not just go to church? Or leave the country, not stay in the same county?

Amidst the cynicism, a fierce assurance is somehow planted deep, and it is this coupling that makes me feel like a crazy person the whole week.

And He knows this, too. Tomorrow, next week, you will not feel this way. You will doubt your ears, your heart. Write it down, tell someone–confess it, now.

I do not do this right away. I wait several hours, then call my mother, who (at least in this moment) does not think any of this sounds crazy at all. She is more supportive than I am. I get off the phone as my friend Preston climbs into my car. I tell him too–shaking, chattering, riled up–and he acts as if this is the most natural thing, like he expected it. One by one, friends and strangers nod in encouragement when I tell them, either in quiet response to a question or as a blurted announcement all its own.

Or in rambling phone calls under the green light of Pat Neff Hall.

Bonnie, too, accepts all of this with ease. She tells me that it sounds like this is what I was wanting, that it is an answer, and I wonder why it feels different than I had thought it would. In this moment, a string of words from another conversation, another winter, another issue float before me:

Maybe the brave thing is to stay.

And for an instant, one of few, I consider that perhaps the voice on the coffeeshop back porch isn’t just my unwillingness to pack up and leave, that maybe following involves lingering, that Waco might not be the Fixed Island.

And so, I stay.

my thing with Lent.

This post was supposed to be about my Lenten fast: what I am giving up and why, only because, well, I am giving up social media—Facebook and Twitter—so it will be quite obvious. I wanted to detail the reasons, how I got here, and the way I roll my eyes at such an obviously twenty-something type of fast and cringe at its publicity. But then, this happened, and maybe the rest is alright unexplained.

 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.

Growing up in a mode of faith that frowned upon anything resembling “works-based,” almost any discipline besides the vague, unguided imperative to “pray and read your Bible” bordered on working too hard for something that is gift. My concept of faithfulness was simply obedience to The Voice of God. When explanations were given for hearing The Voice of God, they were somewhat unhelpful or confusing: “it’s that thing in your gut that you don’t want to do,” “it is usually something embarrassing,” etc. (I had questions about the wide range of things that fit these criteria, but might not be the Voice of God.)

Despite these things, I still somehow knew people who fasted in some way for Lent–usually from sodas or candy or something they shouldn’t be doing too much of anyway. There was something about self-denial here, but it mostly sounded like a holier version of New Year’s resolutions to me.

As the years passed, my understanding broadened a little, possibilities peeked out of corners. I saw that maybe this could be more than earning, more than a secret way to lose 10 pounds in 40 days.

I could slowly see how fighting a habit, or starting a new one, with intention and faith could turn my fragmented, wayward self to the cross, to Him. It all still sounded abstract, but I like abstract things most days, so my heart tinkered with it quietly.

But then there is a second me, a second voice, that second-guesses my every motive. Sometimes, she’s helpful–she points out the selfishness and pride of my heart, and I can tell that she and the Holy Spirit have been talking when I wasn’t paying attention. Lots of other times, she sends me into a circular frenzy about my true intentions. It might be the kind of thing where you read the Beatitudes or something and try to mentally work through the causality of it all–“If I’m shooting for ‘poor in spirit’ to see God, am I actually being poor in spirit? How do you seek something like that without missing it entirely?” And so on. There is a bit of truth to this sort of thinking—saints don’t think they are saintly—but instead of putting one foot in front of the other, this sort of chicken-and-egg frenzy usually just paralyzes me.

Maybe you can see where I am going with all this, and why Lent has still never quite clicked for me, that I carry around these annoying hangups. I fear that doing something that feels so very against the grain as an unavoidably loud siren to spirituality will lead to arrogance, and I miss the point entirely. I will start feeling like I have done something very important, and self-denial will lost in the fray with everything else.

And this is what kept me from observing Lent last year especially. I stopped in my tracks, ignored what I think were holy nudges, and claimed the danger of my own heart over what I felt I was supposed to do. All of this was very silly anyway, because, in turn, I was secretly pleased that I had so astutely dodged the bullet of pride. That self-contradictory second voice again.

But even after last year’s Easter, my heart pricked when I thought of how deliberate I was in saying no. Every few months, I would find myself in a sort of Lent-countdown, knowing I would have to face it again. I wanted it to be different this time. But I think the final shift came with a conviction: “You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God,” from The Cloud of Unknowing, as quoted in Lauren Winner’s new book...which I have been quoting incessantly lately. And here, I will do it again, as Lauren describes the two-fold nature of these words:

The words slap. Busyness is not much of an excuse if it only takes a minute or two to move toward God.

But the Monk’s words console, too. For, of time and person, it seems that scraps are all I have to bring forward. That my ways of coming to God these days are all scraps.

The funny thing is that the latter part struck me as humbling, too–my efforts, my inconsistencies, my backward attempts to circumvent vices are but scrap and potsherds themselves. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as each inch I move feels like a floundering mystery anyway. But somehow, though my pride isn’t gone, and my heart still seeks to self-justify, in light of these words, the threat oddly seems less sharp.

I think I am learning, so very slowly—with Lent as well as a lot of other things—what it means to do the praxis without having to always dissect in theoria (or to know all of the Greek words, for that matter). I think I am learning what it means to put one foot in front of the other and still carry the questions around, as I learn their texture, feel their weight, and smooth them over with my thumb. I think I am learning what it means to pursue faithfulness despite fear, even if it is a fear of myself.

So this year, I will walk in Lent.