beginning again and again

“In dishwashing, I approach the moral realm; there are days when it seems a miracle to be able to make dirty things clean.” — Kathleen Norris

This is the third of three posts on books that have inspired me in this season of my life. Grab your coffee, read the post, and then go check out one of Kathleen Norris’s books. (There are two authors named Kathleen Norris — this one is an essayist and poet.) 

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Writers on writing and the writer’s all life seem to eventually get around to the mundane aspects of keeping house.

I think because it’s the housekeeping that gets most in the way of writing . . .

but I bet Kathleen Norris came up with these great lines when she was doing the chores:

“In dishwashing, I approach the moral realm;
there are days when it seems a miracle to be able to make dirty things clean.”

“Both housework and poetry require that I pull disparate things together,
sort through the odd pieces of my life,
and try to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Deep words for a Monday morning. And it’s about to get deeper . . .

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life

person of faith

Sometimes, you read a book at exactly the right time and it makes a pierce-the-soul sort of impression on you. Whatever is in the writing of the story, somehow you feel like it’s yours, too.

That’s how I feel about writers like Madeleine L’Engle and Kathleen Norris.  They blend the writer’s life with family, housework, grief, faith, prayer and work.

Kathleen Norris is a Presbyterian who spent some time reviving from a particularly dry, discouraging season in a monastery. She describes the liturgy, prayers, and quiet in ways that express the healing combination of prayer and scripture reading and living in community.

Acedia & Me is where I started this Live the Season series for Write 31 Days. In this book, she dives further into the reasons for the seasons of discouragement and what met her there and pulled her out.

She talks about walking away from the Church and from her faith in God for a season, only to hear Him inviting her back through the kindness and love of a small-town, hymn-singing Protestant church and a bunch of monks:

However true and even beautiful this turning of times and seasons may be,

I tend to resist it as a necessary aspect of the spiritual life. Monastic writers

have always emphasized that maintaining a life of prayer means being willing

to start over, after one has acted in a sinful or destructive way. Both pride and

acedia will assert themselves, and it may appear that we are so far gone we may

as well give up and not embarrass ourselves further by pretending to be

anything but failures. It seems foolish to believe that the door is still open, that

there is always another chance. I may accept this intellectually, but I have come to

appreciate its depths only through experience. Just when I seem to have my life

in balance and imagine I can remain in this happy state forever, I lose sight of

the value of contemplation and prayer, and try to live without it. Soon enough,

once again, I am picking myself up out of the ashes.

–Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life

This is so true and yet I wish it wasn’t. Strange that it’s so difficult to pray when things are going well. And then the crash comes and we realize what we are missing and we pray until things are in balance again and then we try life on our own again. It’s a cycle, like the seasons.

Also . . . don’t you wish you could go live at a monastery for a few months? Or at least every Monday . . .

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As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.  Psalm 103:13-14

the healing power of daily discipline

We’re all in a season of something, we might as well live it.

You can do anything for 30 days.

I said this a few months back — before I’d really thought it through.

I’m a great starter. I’ve got vision, enthusiasm and energy for something new almost always. But finishing takes every ounce of discipline I don’t have.

Take the “30 Day Shred” for example . . . I enthusiastically accepted a friend’s challenge  and kept at it for approximately ten days.

And then we went camping. And then I had to write a website for a client. And then, no matter how much Jillian yelled there is no modification for jumping jacks! I make 400 pound people do them you can do them, too! my ankles and knees began to tell me things I’ve never heard my body say before . . . things I really can’t repeat.

I’m a big thinker. A dreamer. But the daily grind, the day to day . . .  it takes everything I have to fold my clothes and put them away. It’s so daily! That’s why cooking is my favorite home chore. I can create, dream, and delight my family. Frankly, no one is all that delighted by my tidy room. I’ve asked.

To be fair, it’s not that I’m completely unable to do anything consistently. I brush my teeth every morning and every night. I’m just not so disciplined.

Over the years, I’ve embraced this freedom and turned it into an art:

  • I’m spontaneous, creative, I do my best work at the last minute. (All true.)
  • There are more important things than having a clean house. (Also true.)
  • I’m a Mary not a Martha. (Not so much true. I’m more of a daydreaming Mary who decides at the last minute to be a Martha and then pleads for all the Marys in the house to help.)

This “procrastinating perfectionism” has worked for me for years. Years. In just about everything.

At least I was. Until I hit a wall.

About a year ago, I ran out of words and writing became a chore. The problem is, writing is my job, so I had to find a way to recharge. Plus, I love to write.

I read books. Memoirs about writing. Self-help books for writers. I did exercises. Nothing really worked. I was deeply discouraged and it affected everything. I withdrew. I gained weight. I became listless and apathetic.

And then I came across a book about monks and acedia:

The desert monks termed acedia “the noonday demon” because the temptation usually struck during the heat of the day,  when the monk was hungry and fatigued, and susceptible to the suggestion that his commitment to a life of prayer was not worth the effort . . . .

. . . . I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married “for better or for worse,” anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in every day life.

Acedia & me  – Kathleen Norris

That was it. Acedia was what ailed me.

Anxious to discover the secret to defeating this demon, I devoured the book in a week. If you’re anything like me, you are not going to like the answer I found. To battle acedia, monks turned to simple, daily discipline serving through the doldrums. Working with their hands while talking to God, creating a rhythm that renewed their passion for prayer.

I know this to be true. If I was writing at home, I washed dishes and carefully cleaned the kitchen, praying as I cleaned. I spent four hours deep cleaning my bathroom. I washed everything in the house and folded every piece. I went for walks with my boys. I said yes to invitations and activities. After a while, I needed a pen and a notebook next to me while I was making dinner again.

I wrote and wrote. And it felt so good to be writing again.

About that time, I ran across another month long challenge: writing every day for 31 days.

I mentioned it to Dave — who is very happy that I’m writing again. But he said, “You’ve never done 31 days of anything. The last 15 days will be a surprise.”He’s right. So I’m taking lots of pictures just in case I give up and this becomes 31 Days of Cats.

But I figure, maybe I’ll have to clean something every day in order to write every day. In theory, if I am successful, I should end up with a spotless home. In theory.

So I’m taking the challenge. Because discipline really is reviving me.1500 size Live the Season

I settled on a theme, wrote out a list of posts and ideas, tidied the blog, played around with graphic arts and I’m ready to go.

My theme for the next 31 days is contentment: Live the season. I expect I’ll write about parenting, recovery, being 45, and relationships among other things. Some days will be serious and others not. I mean, I’ve never done anything like this before. Who knows what will happen?

No matter what season you are in,  I hope you’ll follow, add to the discussion and share posts with friends.

We’re all in a season of something, we might as well live it.

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right, wrong, and grace

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

Total honesty: I had a post all ready. Filters for our words, part two: on husbands and social media. Ready to go today.

And then, this thing happened.

A big to-do in the world I come from. And I was sad. Mad. Vocal. I researched. I followed. I watched and I listened. I was outraged. I was grieved.

And then, suddenly, I snapped out of it. For that, I thank my sister, and my husband, the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” lady . . . and the lovely squash I baked for dinner.

I got sucked into a “foolish controversy” yesterday. A “wrangling of words” with some people who are always right. Even when they use faulty metrics from sources they usually oppose, fail to practice principles of confrontation they preach, and paint condemnation with broad brush strokes.

It is surreal. And sort of painful . . . to collide with the world that shaped my mind as a new adult.

I struggle so much with this, this legalism, that took hold of me. The wrongness of them. The rightness of us.

The need to be right is just part of who I am. I can’t entirely blame that on my education. But it was certainly nourished there.

It felt good to be surrounded by people who thought exactly like me. If we differ on nuance, fine. Let’s just not make it an issue. Honestly, I don’t like to fight. Right felt right.

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

And the who I think I should be is weighted so heavily with the years of sermons and books, and principles and seminars. I look back and find no place for the woman whose husband is a Christ-follower & church leader — and yet struggles with pain and addiction to pain pills . . . And suddenly I am there again . . . lost in a world of blue blazers and khaki dress pants, confused by how being right made you live right, because it didn’t. All the rightness in the world did not equip me to deal with addiction.

Yesterday, I thought of all the years of my life I wasted. Believing that certain denominations were wrong and therefore had nothing good to offer and all the while, in a “seeker friendly” — and therefore wrong — mega church on the other end of L.A., a program was launched that held the keys to my salvation.

12 Steps. Imagine that.

Biblical principles to release both Dave and me from bondage to secrets and shame. Truth, through which I finally understood my actual need for God even though I had known Him all my life and had been grounded in solid theology (with a degree from the right school to prove it). And through which I came face to face with the reality of God’s grace. Grace sufficient for me. Power made perfect in weakness.

A place where people prayed over me and Dave with a passion I had never heard in all my life. A place where we sang songs with repetitive choruses, read from a different translation of the Bible, wore t-shirts, and were preached to by recovering addicts. A place where we grieved, and celebrated.

I had never experienced Church like that.

And I broke. The pride. The fear. The defense . . .

. . . but the peeling takes time. These layers are thick.

I listen. I study. I read. I pray. I ask God to give me a heart of compassion rather than rightness (believe me, I have a full tank of that). I fail. I retreat. I strive for perfection. I believe knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And yet, still, I lean toward the comfort of knowing . . .  it’s just so much easier than love.

I am surrounded now by people with whom I don’t always feel completely at home. I don’t take for granted that we see eye to eye on finer points of doctrine. My closest friends worship in churches my education taught me preach a false gospel. And yet, I witness in their lives a deep communion with Christ,  and in their churches a stronger commitment to reaching out in Jesus’ name with actual love and help for the hurting — doing what Jesus would do. And I’ve been studying what they teach — from their writers — the core of what they really believe — and it’s there in Scripture — in interpretations dating back to the earliest days of the Church. And I am beginning to see how so much of what I once believed about them was based on caricature and representations and not reality.

This week, I appreciate anew that I am in a church where I am learning to have a spirit of love along with a spirit of discernment. I was — and still am — sorely lacking in actual grace. For others, as well as for myself.

I’m not always comfortable with grace. I am still overly concerned about appropriate attire (as though poor fishermen had Sunday finery). I am still self-conscious of movement, of kneeling to pray, of closing my eyes and shutting out the world to sing.

And I am slow to raise my hands.

* * * * *

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

— St. Paul, Ephesians 4:1-5