Browsed by
Tag: children’s spirituality

The Day We Prayed for Santa Claus

The Day We Prayed for Santa Claus

Christmas Eve in 2006 fell on a Sunday.  The air crackled with the excitement of the children as the congregation gathered for church that morning.  As was our custom, I started the service by asking if there was anything people would like to pray for.  One girl, a quiet, reflective preschooler, raised her hand.

“I’d like to pray for Santa Claus.”  She paused, looking up quickly at my face. “Because it’s very cold out and his job is dangerous.”  Her little voice was quiet but resolute as she made her request.

Now, I was fresh out of seminary and pretty determined to do everything right.  Like many before me, I was going to save humanity with my passion for properness.  I would gather God’s people as I preached the right sermons, led the right Bible studies and wrote the right liturgies. Praying for a fictional character clearly missed the mark.  

My mind whirled. What would people think of me as I prayed for Santa Claus and his non-existent journey around the world?  What would God think of me? Could I cover it with a more general prayer for all of those who faced danger that night?  One glance at the girl’s concerned face told me that I could not.  Her trust was in a God who would protect Santa Claus and a church who would deliver that prayer.

So, in between offering thanks for a family visit and  asking for healing for a sick parent, I prayed for the safe journey of a jolly red man delivering presents by flying sleigh.  

Buried beneath that sentence was a silent, fervent prayer that God would forgive me for wasting God’s time.  And buried deep beneath that was a lurking fear that I had committed sacrilege, taken Christ out of Christmas and given into satanic forces by idolizing Santa. (After all, if you rearrange the letters, they spell Satan.)  The fires of hell were probably being stoked in that very instant.  

I should have, I supposed, figured out a way to be a better gatekeeper, to manage the child’s concerns without interrupting the important work of Ruling the Universe.

But you don’t need me to tell you that there’s a Bible story exactly like that.  It’s about the gatekeepers, worried that children’s petty concerns would get in the way of Jesus’ important work.  To which he says, “they are my important work.”

There are sometimes small moments in which you realize that your theology needs shaking up and for me this was one of them.  Somehow, in my core, my belief in God had gotten tangled up with some pretty shady theology. While I would have said I believed in a loving, inclusive, expansive God, inwardly I was still afraid of a judging, exclusive, proper God. You know, the kind of god cares more about what we say when we pray than where our hearts are. The kind who’s more concerned that our prayers are Good and Right and preferably in King James English than that they’re heartfelt moments of connection and opportunities for a developing relationship.

I suppose it’s not enough to offer a full theology of prayer based on the simple fact that I wasn’t struck by lightning in the process of praying a completely useless prayer. Still, I can say that God was in that moment. And if God was in that silly, awkward church-blooper moment, than I suppose we might find God in all sorts of prayers–the poorly thought out, the desperate tumble of words, the dumbstruck silence and even the proper, stilted, struggling version of those of us who still aim to Do It Right.

When I remember that day, I am reminded that people of faith have a sacred trust. Whether it’s with our family, our friends or our church, when we claim to be praying people we have an obligation to follow through. But that’s the only obligation we have.

We don’t have to figure out how prayer works. We don’t have to be worthy. We don’t have to determine who else is worthy. We simply have to uphold our end of the deal: to take it to God.

All these years later, I still take that as a both an awesome challenge and a great comfort.

 

 

Prayer Stations for a Families

Prayer Stations for a Families

Last Sunday we used prayer stations in worship, something we do every couple months. If you’re not familiar with prayer stations, they’re simply tables set up with different prayer ideas. People wander to each station as they like, spending time wherever they feel most drawn.

I like them because they lend themselves to intergenerational worship, giving both kids and adults the space to connect to God at their own pace. Like the labyrinth, walking prayer or prayer beads, they also introduce a physical element to contemplative practice, which is helpful for kinesthetic pray-ers of all ages. While they’re certainly not the only way to build participatory worship experience, they are one way of doing so.

For all of these reasons, I’m discovering that prayer stations are also a great way to “do spirituality” at home. Most of the time when I share ideas for family worship, it’s a project or litany that everyone does together. (Like the gratitude jar, New Year’s Eve ritual or the home Tenebrae service.)  But since families include many of the same elements churches do: different ages, different ways of experiencing spirituality or different energy needs, offering a couple ways of praying can be an opportunity for the family to create sacred space while still respecting each person’s individual spiritual needs.

So, here are the prayer stations we used on Sunday, adapted for family use. Just copy and paste the directions for each station, print them for easy reference for everyone and set them near the appropriate prayer station. Try setting them up on each side of a kitchen table, with candles in the middle and dimmed lighting for a vespers-style family night. Or, take them outside for a completely different experience. Pre-readers will need help but can engage pretty well with a bit of direction. And the beauty of prayer stations is that even toddlers can join in. They’ll get the experience of family connection and begin to appreciate time set aside for prayer and inner reflection.

You’ll need:

Legos (or Duplos if you have a baby or toddler)

Puzzle pieces (You know that old Elmo puzzle that’s missing three pieces already? This is your chance to put it to good use.)

Paper hearts—at least one per person. (Use that scrapbook paper you bought back when you were going to learn to scrapbook to cut out hearts of different colors and textures.)

1 or 2 small mirrors

Directions for each station, below

 

Directions for each station:

Legos

For preschoolers and younger elementary kids: Build a tower of legos. Count how many you have. Can you think of that many things you like about yourself? Thank God for giving you those gifts.

For older elementary and middle school kids: What kind of person do you want to be? As you build with the legos, imagine building your spirit. What would you add? What would you take away? Ask God to guide you as you grow.

For  high school and adults: Think about your actions this week. What did you build in your life? Where did you put your energy? How are you building things that really matter, like meaningful relationships and time with God?

Puzzle pieces

For preschool and early elementary: Choose a puzzle piece. What do you like about that particular piece? How is it different from the others? Thank God for making so many different things in the world, including you!

For older elementary through adults: Choose a puzzle piece. What do you notice about that particular piece? How would the puzzle be different if this piece went missing? What’s missing in your spirit? How can you find the missing piece?

Hearts

Take a heart. On one side, write the name of someone who has hurt you. Ask God to help you forgive them. On the other side, write the name of someone you’ve hurt. Ask God to help them forgive you.

Mirrors

Look into a mirror. Study yourself. What’s it like to really see yourself? If you could see into your heart, what would you see? Spend some time praying over that idea. What do you think God sees in you? Ask God to help you grow into the person God created you to be.

(Kids in older elementary to high school may find the experience of studying themselves in the mirror to be uncomfortable. They may use the time to adjust their hair, comment on the size of their nose or simply avoid this station. This is true of both boys and girls. You can gently encourage them to refocus on the prayer if they get too sidetracked but don’t make it big battle. They’re thinking about the questions more than they let on!)

I’d love to hear from you if you try these at home! And if you’re looking for more ideas for building family rituals, take a look at Traci Smith’s blog and her new book Faithful Families, which is full of ideas. You’ll get to hear more from Traci when she stops by the blog in a couple weeks–I can’t wait to have her here.

In her book Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dr. Victoria Dunckley notes the high number of 11 year olds who feel stress over building a personal brand.

Yes, you read that right—11 year olds are feeling the pressure to brand themselves, to develop an “image” that sets a tone for their lives. Now, Dunckley is writing this from the angle of a psychiatrist concerned about the amount of time kids spend connected online, which isn’t my main focus. We share the concern, though, over the pressure for kids to spend time building an online presence.

People with successful personal brands, the personalities, writers, sports heroes, politicians, consultants who have strong “personal brands” spend an inordinate amount of time carefully curating what they post, responding to comments, using Instagram to drive traffic to their website and their website to drive traffic to their Twitter and their Twitter to drive traffic to their Instagram, all in the name of increasing engagement and thereby somehow “become known.”

And the goal of “becoming known?” Well, at the end of the day, it somehow ties back to money. There’s the hope of becoming known as an expert in the field with the goal of landing a dream job sometime in the future. Or selling advertising on a website or blog. Or developing a writing voice or a platform for future books. For many people, this is just a reality of the world we live in.

For 11 year olds, though, it’s not. When 11 year olds start developing a concern for a personal brand, it’s a strong condemnation of our culture. Developing a personal brand is essentially about being for sale. And while I’d wager that most kids don’t realize that this is what they’re doing, it is. The message has become so ingrained in us that we somehow believe that the only reason to be known is in order to make money.

Of course this isn’t at all the message of Jesus, who might have lived in a time before the struggles of online citizenship but still knew a thing about people vying for social position. His answer, always, was to remind people that the kingdom of God is upside down. Who you know, what you know, what you have—none of these things matter. In fact, they may even work against you—after all, the last will be first and the first will be last.

So what does all of this talk about personal brands and crazy social trends have to do with reclaiming Sabbath?

Our ability to understand our relationship with God is directly related to the time we set apart. We can’t immerse ourselves in a cultural push to always be “on,” and then expect to stay centered in the idea that our “on-ness” isn’t what matters. If we want to teach our children that their worth is grounded in their relationship with God then we have to give them space to experience this relationship. Not lecture them about it, not force them to join in family prayers, not even gently say to them “God loves you just the way you are,” but to experience the freedom that comes from just being them.

I’m afraid that for children these days, there’s very little antidote to the world’s constant push to prove yourself, to do more, to be better. This is a soapbox of mine and I could list examples for days—increased testing, diminished playtime at home and at school, lack of family time, competitive sports starting younger and younger, activities that fill schedules to the point where no one has time to breath, computer games built around addictive reward cycles, stressed out parents who don’t have time to connect…all of these things are teaching our children that they have to compete for status and attention.

I have a very real fear that true spirituality—the ability to listen to God through our internal selves—will disappear for many of our young people.

This is where Sabbath is important for children. Now, I know that the idea of enforced rest isn’t popular for kids. Remember my reaction to the idea of a Sabbath day? But there are plenty of ways to help kids learn a rhythm of rest that can form a basis for their spiritual development. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Build in daily family quiet times

We have so little silence in our lives. And the less we have, the more uncomfortable we become with it. There is actual noise everywhere—the radio in the car, the TV at home, chatter in group settings. Plus, there’s a draw toward mental chatter, the kind that comes from surfing the internet or even reading quietly. We are so afraid to be alone with our thoughts and we’re passing that fear onto our children.  A simple, counter-cultural practice is family quiet time. Set aside five minutes each evening before bed to simply breathe. If five minutes is too much, do three. Or one. You can always build up from there. The trick to making this work is to give kids something to focus on. I love the Calm app, which is just a visual of a circle expanding and deflated in a breathing rhythm. At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, the presenter recommended giving kids a pinwheel to blow, which focuses breath and is fun.

  1. Play

Play meets many of the criteria of Sabbath. It’s purposeless. It’s countercultural. It deepens our relationship with each other. Build in times for family members to simply be silly together–no competitive games, no individual screens drawing your attention, just time for connection and laughter. Maybe it doesn’t feel “religious,” but as one part of a move toward reclaiming Sabbath time, it’s an important start.

  1. Designate a certain time each week as family time and stick with that schedule. It will be hard. It will also teach that it’s ok to say no. Tending to our families and our inner lives is every bit as important as attending BBQ’s, sports games, even homework or school events. Again, start small if you have to. Make it an hour on Sunday afternoons or a time when you’re already relatively free. (And if there’s no time when you’re already relatively free, then that’s an excellent reason to create one.)

While these are small steps, they are the beginning to building a culture of rest within your family. I’d love to hear how your family observes times of rest together!

Ideas to Steal for a Family New Year’s Eve Ritual + 5 Prayers for 2017

Ideas to Steal for a Family New Year’s Eve Ritual + 5 Prayers for 2017

In some churches, a Watch Night service is held on New Year’s Eve. While the service likely originated with the Moravians, it has strong roots in the Methodist tradition. However, it gained new life in Black church communities in 1862 as traditional Watch Night services gave way to a literal waiting and watching for the dawning of 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect. So strong is this association that some have associated the invention of the Watch Night service with this event.

Since we can’t attend a watch night service this year, I’m creating my own ritual for our family at home. It’s brief, because that’s just practical. While Watch Night was traditionally held to coincide with midnight, much like our secular celebrations to ring in the next year, I plan to do it shortly after nightfall. Mainly this is because I’m battling a cold and probably won’t be staying up late myself. (Who am I kidding, I’m not a late night person even when I’m operating at 100%!)

My plan is pretty simple: light a candle, read a Bible verse, do a family reflection/goal setting time and close with a prayer.

For our reading, I plan to use Isaiah 65:17.

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

(Since one of my goals is to help our daughter become more familiar with the actual, physical Bible, I’ll be having her look this up herself instead of printing it out like I usually do for better flow.)

I created this printable for our reflection time but there’s a bunch of great printables out there. Last year, I compiled these. I like the opportunity to think about the things we liked about 2016 as well as looking forward to 2017. It’s a great opportunity to think about what goals we want to let go of as well as what ones we want to keep.

Here are 5 prayers I like for New Year’s Eve.

A Prayer at the End and Beginning of a Year

Lord, give me I pray:
A remembering heart for the things that have happened.
An attentive heart to what I have learned.
A forgiving heart for what has hurt.
A grateful heart for what has blessed.
A brave heart for what may be required.
An open heart to all that may come.
A trusting heart to go forth with You.
A loving heart for You and all your creation.
A longing heart for the reconciliation of all things.
A willing heart to say “Yes” to what You will
– Leighton Ford

 A Prayer for the New Year

God, thank you for a new year. May everyone in our family be willing to begin anew with a clean slate. We know that you are always ready to forgive us. Help us to be willing to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another.

As we begin a new year, remind us of our truest values and our deepest desires. Help us to live in the goodness that comes from doing what you want us to do. Help us to put aside anxiety about the future and the past, so that we might live in peace with you now, one day at a time.

Looking Forward 

In this time we turn our thoughts to how we can
touch and be touched,
love and be loved,
forgive and be forgiven,
heal and be healed,
so that the goodness of our lives is a shared blessing.

-Marta M. Flanagan

For Making All Things New

Lord, You make all things new You bring hope alive in our hearts And cause our Spirits to be born again.

Thank you for this new year For all the potential it holds. Come and kindle in us A mighty flame So that in our time, many will see the wonders of God And live forever to praise Your glorious name.

A Prayer for the New Year from Marianne Williamson

Dear God,
May my life be of use to You this year.
May my talents and intelligence
help heal the world.
May I remember how much I have
by remembering how much I have to give.
May I not be tempted by smaller things
but serve my larger mission of forgiveness and love.
Thus shall I be lifted, God,
and know joy this coming year and beyond.
Bless me and work through me
to bless the entire world.

 

Thanks for reading along in 2016 and cheers to a new year!

 


 

 

Should We Pray to Mother God?

Should We Pray to Mother God?

Many years ago, I walked into an argument in my Sunday School classroom. It went like this:

“The Bible says “Our Father who art in heaven!”

“Yes, but we know that God isn’t a boy or girl. So I can say ‘Our Mother’ if I want!”

Without knowing it, these two kids were hashing out a battle that was much, much older than they are. The central question: Does it matter what we call God?

Related: Why is God Not Female?

Most Christians affirm that God is neither male nor female: God is God. The challenge is in our language. I speak from the experience of someone who tries hard to refer to God only as “God” and avoid the gender issue altogether.  It gets tedious. “God told God’s people to move into the land God had prepared for them.” It’s fine for a sentence or two, an entire sermon or article that way is a struggle to read and listen to. Quite simply, we need a pronoun.

That’s where things get tricky. In a patriarchal society, like ancient Rome, Medieval England, Renaissance Spain or most other place Christianity has spread, the default pronoun is male. And so while we affirm that God is neither male nor female, we say he/him/his. “It,” as a pronoun for God has never been seriously considered, for good reason

So we press on, calling God “Father,” trusting that we are intellectual people who can appreciate that the maleness of God is simply a matter of language. It is a matter for the head, not the spirit.

The mistake we’ve made in this debate is assuming that our intellectual understanding is really separate from our spiritual understanding. The truth is, what we call God shapes how we think of God, and how we think of God shapes how we connect with God. We can’t divorce our heads from our hearts quite so easily.

We would be better served, I think, if we dropped the emphasis on God’s lack of gender and began emphasizing instead God’s encapsulation of both genders. It is biblical, right from the story of Genesis: male and female, both created in God’s image. 

Where we have tried to teach God’s “nothingness” in gender, many of our spiritual role-models have taken the opposite approach. Julian of Norwich, for example, regularly referred to God as both Mother and Father, using the terms interchangeably as she wrote about her deep experiences of God’s presence. While she frequently used the traditional language for God: Maker, Lord, Father, she also wrote of being nurtured at God’s breast, of Mother God pulling her close and even used feminine imagery in speaking of Christ. “Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

I’ll be the first to admit that gender-bending language like this makes me pause. And yet, it is also a fuller, deeper, richer image of God as One who encompasses all things instead of a remote, heady image of God who encapsulates nothing.

This is why the first question I ask people who are stuck in their spiritual lives is how they address God. I’m not primarily interested in whether they think of God as “man,” most don’t. I’m actually  interested in how they’re addressing God in the intimate moments of prayer: the quiet of their bedtime prayers, or the depth of their souls as they watch the sunrise in the mountains. For many people, the traditional male language for God has become removed and rote; it fails to capture God’s fullness and nearness the way Jesus’ daring language of “Father” or “Dad” once did.

I believe that God continues to reach out to us in ways that will both challenge and comfort us. Click To Tweet

I have come to believe that God continues to reach out to us in the ways that will both challenge and comfort us. Our spiritual journey to “find God,” isn’t about finding God in prayer once but finding God in prayer over and over and over again–and sometimes, this means changing the very way we pray.

 

 

We Have Some Time but Not a Lot: On Celebration

We Have Some Time but Not a Lot: On Celebration

“Come look!  There are, like, 20 balloons out today!”

I walk to the window and peer out through the tired faux-wood blinds.  The hot air balloons are hovering on the horizon, a chaotic bouquet against the morning sky.  There are perhaps ten balloons but the sight is impressive nonetheless so I have the good grace not to correct the kids’ counting or their grammar.

I love this about our new town.  Not just the daily flight of hot air balloons but the way it is always a cause for celebration.  We moved here twenty months ago, which should be enough to get settled in.  It is, after all, enough to get a child through a grade and a half of school, plus two summers.  It’s long enough to discover the best grocery store, a favorite coffee shop and great new friends.  It is not quite long enough to stop missing the best things from our old town but perhaps that’s the danger of living deeply–there is always something to be missed when change comes.

hot air balloons

The balloons never get old though.  Neighbors post pictures on Instagram and Facebook.  My daughter’s reading class once took a ten minute break to watch a balloon land in the field near their school.  There is something enthralling about them and for a few brief seconds I can really believe that they are sailing to Oz.

There are also the prairie dogs.  They, too, are a daily cause for celebration.  We watch them scamper and play and listen to their chirped warnings.  On a walk last winter we laughed at how their tails move when they chirp.  Up and down, up and down, in rhythm to their fast paced barks.  We joke that their tails are levers and this is really what makes the sound.

There was the time when, in the dead of a dreary, windy February, when we were in the midst of that general unease and anxiety that February brings on, I told my husband to “consider the prairie dogs.”  He is not a church person but he still understood the biblical reference and we laughed.  He has suggested that we make a poster that says, “Consider the prairie dogs,” to hang on the blank wall by our sliding glass door.  Like this, maybe?

Consider the prairie dogs

After reading I’m in Charge of Celebrations last spring, my daughter started keeping her own celebration diary.  It includes things like seeing a double rainbow, watching a bunny come into the yard and feeding the squirrels at a rest area in Utah.  (My list of celebrations would include the fact that the rest area gave out squirrel food, because people who turn a desert rest stop into a party are good people.)

School is starting next week and I am a bit depressed about this.  My work time will improve greatly–right now I’m barely hanging in there.  And it will be easier to carve out the space that I crave.  Plus the house might stay clean for longer than 5 minutes.  I am trying to remind myself of these things because really, I would happily extend summer by another 6 or 7 months.

Feeding ground squirrels in Utah

I suppose that’s always the challenge: change hovers right around the edges of all of life’s beautiful moments.  A couple weeks ago we got the diagnoses that our cat has stomach cancer.  This was not a surprise because she is old and anyone could see she is not healthy.  Still, it is one thing to know something inside and another to hear it said out loud.  After two tearful conversations on the phone with the vet, we decided not to pursue any treatment.

I explained it to my daughter this way, “Papoo is really sick.  We have some time but not a lot so we’re just going to love her the best we can.”  Of course, then we both cried and spent the afternoon cuddling with the cat.  This pretty much sums up life itself, doesn’t it?  It is always joy mingled with loss, celebration mingled with grief.

In The Upright Thinkers, Leonard Mlodinow talks briefly about the invention of time-keeping.  Until the invention of the clock in the 1330’s, a day was measured in twelve equal intervals of daylight.  This meant that an “hour” was longer or shorter depending on the season.  Rather than having more hours of daylight in the summer, as we do now, there was more daylight in an hour.

Sundial

I felt envious of these people.  By all indications, they didn’t have much need for a standard measure of time.  This hints at a life unfettered by appointments and errands and conference calls with people across the globe.  I wondered if they found it easier to live in the present, a skill most of us lack in a world where clocks are king.

But of course time still moved on, kids still grew up, seasons still changed and animals still died.  This is what unfettered joy does for us, though.  It allows us to lengthen the amount of time in our hours.  It gives more weight to the celebrations of life than the griefs, until those milliseconds of laughter overtake the minutes of sadness.

This morning it was still dark when I woke up, a sure sign that fall is on its way.  Change is hovering, again.  But celebrations are hovering too.  They are floating there on the horizon, bursts of bright joy just waiting to be noticed.  Time itself, offering not a way to count the hours but a way to measure the minutes.  Depth, not length.  And us just pressing ahead, loving the best we can.

Making a goat noise


I’m writing again today with the other #wholemama folks who are thinking about celebration.  I jumped in late to this because that’s how summer goes here but it’s been such a joy to read and think with other readers, writers and thinkers.  Don’t forget to take a look!

wholemama

When Life Has Become Boring (a #wholemama post)

When Life Has Become Boring (a #wholemama post)

The boy was eight years old. He was one of those precocious types. “Smart as a whip,” as the older members of the congregation used to say. “Full of energy,” they would also say. These things were both true.

In addition to being smart and full of energy, he had a certain capacity for getting his way. “Tell it again,” he would demand every Sunday morning and because I believed in following the children’s interests and cultivating their passions, I would oblige.

“One day, Moses was on the mountain when he saw a burning bush. He went closer and heard a voice telling him to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground.”

“We should be taking off our shoes in church.” The boy announced one day. He announced it as certainly as he announced anything else. “This is a holy place.”

Well, of course church seems like a holy place to a child, especially perhaps a child in this church, where the congregants were fiercely proud of their historic church building and talked often about what a special place it was. It is not really unusual for a child to take the holiness of church as a given fact. Children typically know these things about church:

  •                 God loves them and is with them always.
  •                 The stories in the Bible are important
  •                 The answer to any question during the children’s sermon is “Jesus.”

And, of course, the church is a holy place.

So what was surprising about this little person’s observation wasn’t that he believed the church was holy, it was that he demanded that we act in a way that was in line with our beliefs. His logic could be mapped out with the precision of an algebraic equation. If church is holy and the Bible is true then we ought to be taking off our shoes. It checks out.

Bush

As adults, we also have a series of beliefs. For many of us, they are things like this:

  •                 Make the most of each moment.
  •                 The simple life is best.
  •                 Love each other.
  •                 God is with us always.
  •                 There is holiness in the ordinary.

These are good beliefs. We don’t have any trouble believing them, really.  Our challenge is acting in line with them. We have the tendency to forget these things in our normal, everyday life. We forget them because, after living the same story over and over again, we stop finding it interesting. No one ever wakes up and says, “Oh yes! Tell me the story again of how I get to get up and go to work!” Instead, we are more prone to finding that in their familiarity our stories have become boring.

This is normal and human and probably rooted in some practicality.  We can’t wake up every single morning and naively ponder the magic of the washing machine, nothing would ever get done. But sometimes we go the other way. We become bored with our sameness, our ordinary routines. We become listless and even depressed. We feel irrelevant to this great big world, as though our ordinariness is synonymous with meaninglessness.

Last week I stumbled on a little memory garden tucked in the corner of a local park. There was a small spiral walkway made up of bricks. Each brick held the name of a person, assumedly someone being honored with a donation to the project. In the center was a large brick bearing this quote by Anna Quindlan:

Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittery mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to live, really live…to love the journey, not the destination.

I took a picture of it because I love Anna Quindlan and also I desperately need this reminder. The truth is, I am reeling from the realization that I am fairly ordinary. In our young adult years when everything is ahead of us and dreams are cheap, we rest our identity in the fact that we will change the world. Then we grow and realize that following our dreams means making trade-offs.   It is suddenly much, much harder than we once thought it would be.

This is why we must constantly be reminding ourselves of the holy bits of treasure buried in familiar pathways. Otherwise, this would be the end. We would look at the long, gray walk ahead of us and become discouraged from believing that we matter at all. We would sit down and cry, convinced we’ll never reach the end (however we’re measuring that) and simply stop trying.

Path

Friends, I’m not really telling you anything you don’t know. I’m simply saying that if, like me, you sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer ordinariness of your life that you take a few minutes to recalculate. I’m saying that sometimes, we don’t need anything outside of the life we already have; we just need to balance the equation. If God is with us and there is holiness in the ordinary, then you matter just as you are—boring, mundane, you, right now, walking whatever boring, mundane path is ahead of you. And if this is all true, then the solution to ordinariness isn’t to walk faster, it’s to walk slower. As slowly, perhaps, as if you’d taken off your shoes and were wandering around barefoot.


I’m writing again this week with the #wholemama group.  There is so much good stuff here.  And while I’m truly terrible at managing my social media profiles, I’ll keep posting a few of my favorites to my Facebook page so if you don’t make it to Esther’s site, you can check out a curated version there.

wholemama

Finger Labyrinth: Prayer Project Weeks 10 and 13

Finger Labyrinth: Prayer Project Weeks 10 and 13

Finger Labyrinth(For more on my Prayer Project resolution, go here.)

A few weeks ago, I printed out a handy-dandy finger labyrinth from The Labyrinth Society.  If you need to keep little fingers busy and minds calm during a service or prayer vigil next week, this is a great resource!

If you’re not familiar with labyrinths, they’re an ancient Christian practice of prayerful walking.  They can be in a variety of shapes but a circle or half circle that spirals inward is most common.  They can even be a simple spiral shape. Although some purists argue that a true labyrinth allows you to go out without having to turn around, I’ve seen plenty of complicated labyrinths that break this rule.  Plus, you know, whatever.  Tomaaaato, tomahto–the overall point is that they’re a path for centered walking and praying.  For some helpful tips about using a labyrinth, check out the Creative Prayer site.

I’d never experimented with smaller labyrinth versions but was intrigued by the idea of a finger labyrinth.  These printable labyrinths are meant for tracing with your finger, making them more portable (but also obviously less of a whole body experience.)

The first try at a finger labyrinth was a little discouraging.  My daughter mistook it for a maze, raced through it and declared, “I’m done!”  Pretty standard kid reaction, I guess, but it left me puzzled about what to do next.  (I would say that it’s worth taking a minute to explain the idea of a labyrinth to your kiddos.  I thought she’d remember walking one but she could have still used the reminder about what they are, how they help us pray, etc.)

Attempt Two

Last night I printed another labyrinth and sat down at the table with her.  She announced, “I remember that!” and then asked me to remind her how it was like prayer.  So I explained that it helps you get centered and calm to listen to God.  She tried it again and smiled.

Then I announced part 2.  “Tonight we’re going to do something different.  We’re going to write our prayers along the labyrinth path.”  She took out her pen and got going.  Ranger, our cat who ran away last summer was first.  He is always at the top of her prayer list.  Then prayers for a good day at school tomorrow, a happy playdate and gratitude for a friend at school.  Her prayers went only a little ways along the first path, giving me the idea to continue praying the labyrinth this way for the next week.  The writing along the curvy lines is fun and she enjoyed the finger tracing, too.  All in all, a happy re-do of an initially ho-hum experience with the labyrinth.

Why I Make My Daughter Go to Church

Why I Make My Daughter Go to Church

countrychurch“Why do you like going to church?”

The question was an earnest one from my daughter, as opposed to the “WHY DO WE HAVE TO GO TO CHURCH?” battle we sometimes have. I wanted to answer her question with equal honesty but the truth was, I didn’t have an answer. I was dragging myself out the door that day and the idea of “liking” felt pretty foreign.

“Ummmm…I don’t always like going to church,” I said slowly.

“Then why go?” She countered.

Well that was quite logical wasn’t it? I thought about all the things I do that I don’t want to. Like exercise. Or cleaning. Or volunteering. Or writing. It hit me that most of my life appears to be made up of things that I don’t necessarily like to do.  Perhaps I should simply give all of them up and live for the moment. You know, YOLO and whatever else the kids tweet these days.

She looked expectantly at me as I framed my answer, “Well, church is good for me. I feel better afterwards.”

“Do you really feel better?” This question came from my husband. “Or does it just alleviate feelings of guilt? Maybe you would also feel better if you stopped expecting yourself to go.”

Well, that’s a worthwhile question, too, isn’t it? (I swear, I would not have any deep spiritual thoughts without my family to prod me along.) Could I achieve the same level of satisfaction by not going to church as I did from going to church? Was it really just about perceived expectation leading to perceived guilt leading to perceived satisfaction? It’s always a possibility but I didn’t think so. There have been long periods in my life when I didn’t go to church. Most of my childhood and teenage years. Long stints in college. Years in sleep-deprived young motherhood. I didn’t feel particularly guilty during those times and yet something always called me back. Something deeper than guilt but also much harder to explain.

I was still pondering this discussion, still trying to put my finger on the reason for attending church, when this devotion came to me via email. In the wise words of Br. Robert L’Esperance:

“ There is a value of actually going through the motions of something – whether you have your heart and soul in it is actually immaterial to the practice… There is actually a value in ritual. There is actually a value in doing something – that’s immaterial whether you can rationalize it, whether you can understand it, whether you can put your heart and soul in it – there’s actually a value to just going through the motions, through the steps.” He goes on to offer this heart-stopping advice. “it’s in the doing that we are transformed and we are shaped and we are renewed”

It’s in the doing.

We are so self-conscious of our time. We are so aware that it is fleeting, that it is limited, that we have to make every single minute count, that we must achieve something, that we shouldn’t waste time, kill it or let it slip away. We are so conscious of this that we forget that some things aren’t fun but they are good. Some things are worth spending time on not because we can measure their immediate value but because we feel their effects in the days, months and years to come.

So I’ll continue plugging away, hoping that the rituals and words of church will shape me into the person I want to become. I will also invite/coerce/drag my daughter to come with me so that she, too, might be shaped more fully into the person I see in her future.

Now, if anyone knows how to explain all this to a 7 year old, I’m open to advice.

Epiphany: A Prayer and a Storm

Epiphany: A Prayer and a Storm

On the 12th day of Christmas…

Wooden magi figures with tealights

I had a great plan for an Epiphany prayer. I wrote the prayer, I set up candles around the nativity and I waited anxiously for it to get dark.  I designed this week’s pray time to be simple, which is nice because after the holidays we all need simple.  The poet in me also likes ending the official Christmas season (Christmas to Epiphany, otherwise known as the 12 days of Christmas) the same way we started it on Christmas Eve–telling the story with candle light flickering in the dark.

Keeping with ancient tradition that holy days start at sundown on the day before, I’d decided we’d do our Epiphany prayer at sundown on January 5.  We’d talk a little about the magi and the journey they took, then we’d light 12 candles and say a prayer with each candle. In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that part of my reason for deciding we should do this on January 5 was in the interest of keeping on schedule with this blog. I wanted to be able to share with you how it went and perhaps revise anything that was a big fat failure.

Instead, on Epiphany Eve the wind blew. This was literal wind, not figurative wind.  It blew so hard that the windows shook and outdoor furniture went skating across the patio. One small table crashed and broke into a thousand pieces that I will now have to figure out how to get out of my lawn.

More importantly, my 7 year old daughter, who has an aversion to loud noises, reacted to the whoosh of the wind with full fledged panic. I reassured her a gazillion times that she was safe. I explained that the wind was just making noise. I suggested that we make hot cocoa and look out the window so that we could watch the grass wave. I suggested we close all the curtains and not look out the window. I sat and read with her. We turned up music to drown out the noise. She shrieked. This lasted for hours. I became increasingly irritated, finally pouring a glass of wine because now my nerves were shot.

During a brief moment of calm, I told her the story about Jesus calming the storm because it fit and I believe in telling stories when they fit. Otherwise, I mostly tried not to lose it. I worked really hard not to be irritated because clearly my carefully planned Epiphany prayer was not going to happen, which meant that today’s carefully planned blog post with handy tips from experience was also not going to happen.

So here I am, starting off my year of prayer and already failing. I really thought we’d get this project rolling with something that would inspire me and leave my daughter begging for more. (“When can we pray next, mommy?”) Instead, I’m starting with a lesson in grace, humility and a reminder that if we’re going to look for God in everyday life, we’d better be willing to look in the storms. And sometimes, finding God means finding the grace to let go of your plan and just attend to the now.

Epiphany Prayer
The Prayer Project Week 1

Materials:
12 Candles. I used tea lights. You could use pillar candles or tapers if you have 12 candle holders.
A taper candle for lighting the other candles
A nativity or the magi from the nativity, if you have one handy. A picture or a Christmas card featuring the magi would also work.
Copy of the Epiphany prayer

Prepare:
Set up your candles around your nativity, magi or picture. I arranged mine around my nativity scene. You could also put them in a long row down your dining room table, or in a circle on a coffee table or the floor.

Nativity

Gather:
Begin by briefly reminding your children about the role the magi play in the Christmas story. Remind them that the magi were brave and faithful people who traveled a long way to find Jesus.

Read the opening paragraph of the Epiphany prayer. Take turns reading one line at a time and lighting the 12 candles. End with a moment of silence if the kids have it in them. If they’re young, they’ll probably be ready to be done. That’s ok. Don’t stress about perfection here. It’s ok if there are little giggles or a candle doesn’t light or someone stumbles over a word. Gently redirect back to the candle lighting and keep going.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you, especially since I haven’t tried it yet. 😉 Whatever happens…

Be barefoot. You’re on holy ground.