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Lenten Question: What Does it Mean to Be You?

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LENTEN QUESTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE YOU?

Today I’ll share some thoughts about Lent from one of my favorite authors. Even if you’re not a Jesus-person and you’ve never given Lent a second thought, this could be a useful exercise for you. Lent — which begins the day after tomorrow — is a traditional time for self reflection and re-centering, and Frederick Buechner gives us food for thought and prayer in his book, Whistling in the Dark.

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“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus  went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

  If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

  When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

  If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

  Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

  Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

  If this were your last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”

flowers and Dayspring 039

Approaching Lent

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APPROACHING LENT

Lent starts this week, which I know is very exciting news to you. OK, maybe not.

I’m probably one of the few people who actually likes Lent. After all, it’s still so dark this time of year, and Christians insist on saying things like, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Really? We *know* that, thank you very much, and we expend plenty of effort trying to forget it. And then to add insult to injury, they smear ashes on your face!

Those Jesus people also talk about Lenten “repentance and sacrifice” and — ACK! — SIN. That whispered word and the shame with which it’s been imbued by some church traditions is probably the reason a lot of people reject religion altogether. I know it was the reason my mother did.

“No man who doesn’t even know me is going to stand up there and tell me I’m a sinner. I’m a perfectly nice person,” she would say. And so she was.

But the word “sin” — despite being used as a weapon to manipulate people and strike fear into their hearts — really only means “to miss the mark.” That’s not so bad, right? It means we’re not all we could be, and even my Mom could have owned that truth.

For me, Lent is a time of great hope and expectation, because we get to press the re-set button. It’s a time to intentionally step back and take stock of our lives and decide how we want to change. It can be humbling to admit how much we “miss the mark,” yet it’s empowering to know that we have the power to change, if we have the will.

So I look forward to Lent, beginning with Lenten “eve” on Shrove Tuesday, when I’ll gather with a group of friends for an overly large pancake dinner and bid farewell to my usual state of denial as I begin to “return to the Lord to examine and probe my ways.” (Lamentations 3:40)

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

Photos From the #RESISTANCE

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PHOTOS FROM THE #RESISTANCE

What a loaded word these days, made more powerful by the hashtag that’s often in front of it.

#Resist.

It’s a blessed word, too, encapsulating everything that guy Jesus talked about two thousand years ago. Resisting corrupt systems of power, resisting the worship of money and material things, resisting the all-too-human impulse to judge and divide people from one another, resisting the hubris and ego that pit us against each other instead of recognizing that we are all in this crazy life together and our species will only survive if we love one another.

Today’s word prompt from WordPress could produce a book, and I’m sure there are several being penned as we speak. Sadly, I don’t have time to write much today. But I hope you are thinking resistance. A lot. Especially if you are a follower of Jesus. Because those things that Jesus spent his life resisting? They all live in the White House right now.

Here are some pictures from Saturday’s White House rally in support of refugees and our Muslim brothers and sisters.

#Resist

Some buddies from church & I connected with other people of faith

Some buddies from church & I connected with other people of faith

 

This message could not be more important as the new administration tries to silence opposition and freedom of speech

This message could not be more important as the new administration tries to silence opposition and freedom of speech

 

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Not in my name.

Not in my name.

Love these signs together. We are one.

Love these signs together. We are one.

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Realizing Why I Am Here

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Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

Lyrics by George Harrison, from Beware of Darkness

I’ve always loved that song. It is George’s aching cry to us (and I think to himself) not to be swallowed by the darkness. Sitting in my high school bedroom hiding beneath clunky headphones and a veil of Marlboro smoke, I would crank up the volume on the mournful/hopeful song, attempting to drown out the world. Sometimes I cried, sometimes I raged. I was a teenager.

In my young adulthood, I decided that feeling was too hard, so I anesthetized myself in myriad ways. I learned to deny the darkness and numb my sadness, not realizing that hiding from it simply makes it stronger.

Light in a World of Shadows

A large part of my spiritual journey has been coming to terms with the darkness in the world. I still don’t understand it, but — on a good day — I can accept the “both/and” nature of life: light and darkness, despair and joy, life and death. I have realized that in this world of shadows, my job is to turn determinedly towards the light and to absorb it into myself so that I radiate it back out into the darkness.

I may fall into sadness sometimes, but I know deep down that George was right — “that is not what I am here for.” The light that lives inside of me is stronger than the darkness that’s in me and around me.

This is one of the things that appeals to me about the person of Jesus. He is said to have mourned and wept and to have been “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” yet he is described by all his friends as full of light. His best buddy John said that he was a light for all people and that his “light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” So that’s where I turn to absorb my light.

The Hungering Darkness

In his book The Hungering Dark, one of my favorite authors Frederick Buechner speaks eloquently about the darkness. This passage seems even more relevant today than it was thirty years ago when the book was written . . . uncertainty, fear, conflict.

Buechner begins with a quote from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. I’ve chosen an Isaiah translation from The Message version of the Bible:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows — light! sunbursts of light!”

Then Buechner goes on to say:

“In one respect if in no other this metaphor of Isaiah’s is a very relevant one for us and our age because we are also, God knows, a people who walk in darkness. There seems little need to explain. If darkness is meant to suggest a world where nobody can see very well — either themselves, or each other, or where they are heading, or even where they are standing at the moment; if darkness is meant to convey a sense of uncertainty, of being lost, of being afraid; if darkness suggests conflict, conflict between races, between nations, between individuals each pretty much out for himself when you come right down to it; then we live in a world that knows much about darkness.

Darkness is what our newspapers are about. Darkness is what most of our best contemporary literature is about. Darkness fills the skies over our own cities no less than over the cities of our enemies. And in our single lives, we know much about darkness too. If we are people who pray, darkness is apt to be a lot of what our prayers are about. If we are people who do not pray, it is apt to be darkness in one form or another that has stopped our mouths.”

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

Day nine in my efforts to blog every day.

The Way That You See

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Today is all about seeing, apparently. I didn’t choose this theme for the day, the universe did. Or God. Depending on how you look at it.

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First, I read today’s entry from Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life, my hands-down favorite of the dozen-plus “daily readers” that I own. He says you can learn a lot from “religious observances” like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings if you are in a receptive state of mind:

“The word ‘observance’ itself suggests what is perhaps the most important thing about them . . . It is life going on. It is always going on, and it is always precious. It is God that is going on. It is you who are there that is going on. As Henry James advised writers, ‘be one on whom nothing is lost.’ OBSERVE!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that.”

Then I turn on my computer and in my inbox is a daily meditation from Father Richard Rohr called “Nondual Consciousness.” This is his favorite subject, but it’s not as wonky as it sounds. It’s really about how we see ourselves and each other. Which is to say, it’s about love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You give a piece of yourself to the other. You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously). This allows the other to do the same in return. You do not need or demand anything back from them, because you know that you are both participating in a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving  . . . You accept being accepted — for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever! . . .

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other person, to see us in our imperfection and nakedness, as we are — rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and utterly transformative mystery of grace. This is the glue that binds the universe of persons together.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow and accept God’s love for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.”

Richard Rohr is best in small doses, like rich chocolate cake. If you liked that bit, I highly recommend reading his book, Everything Belongs. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it changed my life. It certainly changed how I see.

The Eyes of the Heart

Then I pick up my bible, which has been ever by my side lately as I work on two sermons simultaneously — remind me never to do that again! My head is a complete muddle and I have two messes on my hands, one of which is to be delivered in a week. Anyway, I come across a wonderful prayer from the apostle Paul to his friends in Ephesus, present-day Turkey. He prays that “the eyes of their hearts” would be enlightened so that they can see the hope and abundance in which they’re living. What a timely prayer for today!

Also a good reminder not spend too much time watching or reading about Donald Trump, lest my heart be filled with negativity and darkness — lest his anger and contempt seep into my heart and fill me with hate and fear. Elsewhere in the Bible, you’ll read: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.”

Watch what you see!

Back in my email, I find the daily word prompt from WordPress is “Eyes.” Of course it is.

eye

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite songsters, Bruce Cockburn.

It’s a verse from Child of the Wind:

Little round planet

In a big universe

Sometimes it looks blessed

Sometimes it looks cursed

Depends on what you look at obviously

But even more it depends on the way that you see

Festival of Faith & Writing: Day Three (kind of)

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I tell myself that losing my wallet on a Christian college campus is less problematic than doing so in Costa Rica, which is where I was the last time I became separated from my wallet. At least I speak the language. Nevertheless, I spend the morning in a mild state of panic with attendant upset stomach until a friend texts at 10:30 to say that my wayward belongings have been found in the back seat of his car. Thank God. I’m not sure what happens if you try to board a plane without a driver’s license these days, but I’m thinking Guantanamo.

At any rate, day three of the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College was just as full and fascinating as were the first two days, but today I also wandered in a cloud of grateful bliss after I was reunited with my identity and my cash and credit cards.

I want to do the sessions and the speakers justice and fear that I won’t be able to, given that it’s almost midnight, I’ve been up since 7, and I’ve just had a couple of glasses of wine with some new friends. It’s about time to curl up in bed with one of my new books.

So tonight I’ll just share a favorite quote from the day. That’s about all the bandwidth I’ve got. I promise to do a proper part III soon, but probably not tomorrow because that’ll be my birthday and I’m going to celebrate at Meijer Sculpture Gardens in downtown Grand Rapids, and then I’ll be flying home (now that I have dodged Guantanamo).

The gardens will be glorious — this trip has gifted me with a second spring this year: hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips all over again.

Birthday Blessings

Birthday Blessings

Anyway, without further ado, here is my favorite quote of the day. It came during a session on being a good “literary citizen,” which means participating in literary communities, going to public readings, supporting your libraries, promoting other’s work, etc.

Writer and editor Laura Turner said that for her, “being a literary citizen is about becoming a better person — becoming more Christlike if you’re a Christian.” The she paused thoughtfully and added, “It’s hard to be an asshole and still be a good literary citizen.”

On that note, good night, dear readers.

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/festival-of-faith-writing-day-one/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/festival-of-faith-writing-day-two/

Festival of Faith & Writing: Day Two

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Would anyone miss my blogging if I went to bed instead? I learned today that there are about two million blog posts issued every day. But I promised myself I would do a daily blog from the Festival of Faith & Writing: so be it.

Blogging or Blathering?

I learned the above factoid at a panel discussion entitled Blogging or Blathering: The Current State of Personal Online Writing where participants addressed the question, “Is there still a legitimate place or need for blogging in a writers’s life?” A magazine editor, a publisher, and a former and current blogger spent an hour disagreeing with each other and sometimes with themselves, saying first one thing and then another. The answer seems to be maybe, sometimes, for some people, yes and no.

I may share more about this workshop when my brain re-engages on some far distant day, but for now I’ll just share the one aspect that became clear: if you are trying to build your writing “platform” through following, commenting, and a ubiquitous online presence, don’t waste your time. No editors or publishers read comments anymore and many have shut them down completely. People are too mean and nasty, they say. Sigh.

I also learned that a nice blog length is 500 words — about half of what mine often are. So for the sake of brevity and a good night’s sleep, I’m just going to pick something that struck me from each session I attended today and expand on my experiences later (maybe).

I also learned that blogs must have pictures. So here are some pictures of life on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids:

under tree

 

 lawn2Angling for a Book Deal

Stephanie Smith, an acquisitions editor at Zondervan Publishing talked about developing an angle for your book that will appeal to editors. While “there is nothing new under the sun,” according to the Bible (I think “my book” has already been written by 1,000 people), Stephanie says that all truths are like diamonds — if you look at them from a different angle the light will strike them differently and they will be beautiful every time.

Writing as Caring

Author David Dark is . . . well, I think his brain is differently ordered than the norm. But what a fascinating ride! We bounced from his grandmother to Godzilla to Star Wars to zombies to Mr. Rogers. This guy is scary-bright, so it’s not easy to keep up with him, much less find one nugget to share. How about this: “Writing is an expression of self-care and an expression of communal care. Ask yourself, ‘what do I have in me right now that might be of help to someone?’” He’s just written a book called, “Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious.” Great title! Sadly (for me, not David), it was sold out just hours after his talk, so I will reserve a space on my shelf for it. 

David Dark

David Dark

Poet and teacher Marilyn Chandler McEntyre bemoaned how hard it is to maintain civil discourse in a political climate where stakes are high and well-funded spin campaigns rule the airwaves. “Where half-truths are common currency and discourse is dumbed down, speaking life-giving words can be particularly challenging.” Amen to that! She offered examples of authors who do this well, including Wendell Berry, Naomi Wolf, Naomi Klein, and Chris Hedges. I love Berry, but I need to check out the other three. Two nuggets: “Neutrality is complicity,” and “Laugh when you can.”

Author Shauna Niequist was very generous with her tips and insights into the memoir process. I’ve got pages of notes to digest from her talk. When asked about vulnerability and where she draws the line on what is “safe” or “appropriate” to share, she answered, “I will always throw myself under the bus if it helps you {the reader} know that you are not alone and you are not crazy.”

Last Words

After eleven hours of words and more words, it’s amazing that I could retain anything from the last session, which was a talk about fiction by George Saunders and Tobias Wolff. Two nuggets, both from Wolff:

“Most of us walk around in an unintentional cloud of self-absorption. Literature is the thing that woke me up to the absolute. adamant reality of other human beings.”

And: “Death is in front of all of us. It should tell us something about how we spend our time.”

Here’s a cheerier thought to end on, because I’m told you should never leave your readers hanging on the edge of an abyss:

photo (68)

Carrying love through the shadows

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