community first! village, faith, Uncategorized

being Bethlehem

“You have the sweetest voice. I’m going to call you Bethlehem.”

My neighbor, Miss H, announced this resolution in the middle of  a soap-making workshop.

I laughed and thanked her. I almost asked what a sweet voice and Bethlehem have to do with another, but I was distracted by the potion of lye and goat’s-milk in front of me. Besides, I’ve learned to let the wisdom of my neighbors percolate for a while before offering comment or question. Most of them are my elders by several decades, and all have endured more life–both joyful and painful–than I can imagine. So I try to listen well before speaking my mind.

This was in the spring time, approaching Easter, and I was finally beginning to feel my roots break through this clay-thick, east-Austin soil. It was (and remains) a painful rooting: I have lamented my quiet academic life with tears and terrors; I have missed my students and Chickasaw neighbors fiercely; and, despite coming here to live in community I have been so lonely in this frantic city, a beautiful Babylon where everyone is friendly, but it is hard to make a friend. And yet, for all that, I could feel the roots growing, ancient instincts inching toward water.

And so, in my weariness and hope, I received Miss H’s nickname as a benediction: Bethlehem, town of Christ’s birth. Let it be so for me, I prayed, Let Christ be born in me. A few weeks later, on the Thursday before Easter, I learned I was pregnant. I think babies must always be a kind of joyful terror, not to mention an interruption in practical affairs (e.g. My first thought was, “We live in an RV — which cupboard is big enough to hold the baby?”), but we had wanted a child, prayed for this child, and so we were glad in our trembling.

On Easter Sunday we had a dessert potluck for friends and neighbors. Afterward, I went for a walk, noting all the blossoms on the fruit trees (our farmers have planted over 100 on the property), laughing to think of all the peaches, mulberries, persimmons, and satsumas the year would bring.  Perhaps this is why God has called me to die to so much, I thought: to my career, my students, my parents’ hopes. Perhaps it was so something new could be born in me, in us. 

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Easter Sunday, 2016

But the day after Easter I began to shiver, and by Tuesday I was delirious with fever, a virulent strain of flu. On Thursday, I began bleeding, and that was the end of it. To feel, however briefly, so full of life, and then to crash back into the reality of death was agonizing.

For most of the past nine months, I haven’t thought directly about the loss of the baby. It was so early–mercifully early–that we had no time to make plans or set expectations in any particular way. We had picked no names, planned no showers, imagined no futures. And yet, the grief has infected almost everything. Feeling betrayed by the future, I have longed for the past more than ever, resenting the work at hand, resenting my husband, who thrives on dreams and future plans.

But the baby would have come right about now, sometime during Advent. I usually observe this watchful season with a careful and quiet gladness: lighting candles each morning, decorating the house little by little, sending letters and gifts to friends. I’ve done none of that this year. But I have pondered what it means to long for a savior, to cry out a God for deliverance, to demand, like Martha, why my Lord has not come sooner to raise the dead.

I have remembered Simeon’s words to Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart. I’ve remembered Rachel weeping for her children, for they are no more. I’ve recalled the Magi, bringing incense for burial to a fresh-faced child.

As I walked tonight I had a strange fancy that one day, when we come to table in God’s kingdom, we’ll feast on all the food we thought was lost — bread from wheat we saw scorched in the field, fruit from the tree that fell in the frost. And the little ones gathered at the table? Only God knows. We can believe, if He will help our unbelief.

Heavenly Father, if there is a life here for my books and quiet ways, if there is water for my roots, then send your Son to pitch his tent (or trailer!) right here among us. Put honey on my tongue and make room in my heart: let me be Bethlehem, even if there is no baby in my arms. 

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Uncategorized

Taking hold of hope

 

Advent is a girl in a purple skirt, her face homelike and strange. I knew her once, you think. Maybe she’s the kid who used the live around the corner? Or what about the girl you almost asked to dance that night long ago?

Advent is a girl who never grins or giggles, but her eyes are bright. Nails clipped short, those hands say she works hard, while the line of her mouth–so nearly a smile–makes you want to ask, like a child, that she tell you a story.

You’ve seen her sisters, too: up north they clear snow-blocked sidewalks by night, and sneak into homes where the furnace has gone out, kindling fires to warm the sleepers. Here in Texas, Advent keeps a candle in her pocket, matches ready. Lit, it smells of southernwood and orange rind.

When Advent comes to visit, she will be stern to see your house in disarray, so much dust on the floor. Ashamed, you’ll fumble for the broom, only to see she has it in hand already. Humming, she drives the dirt from your rooms and helps you put the house aright.

After the work, you’ll sit together and she’ll tell tales you haven’t heard in years. If you fret over all that must still be done, she’ll take your hand and say, “Enough,” and call you back with a cup of spiced wine. (Did you even notice, as you cleaned, that she had set it to simmer on your stove?)

You invite her to the Christmas party, and she agrees, but only out of courtesy. The fête is glamorous, tinseled and triumphant, but you lose sight of the girl in the merry bustle. Someone says they saw her outside, candle lit, watching the sunset.

And so you run. Run to the door — can you catch a glimpse of her light? Forget the gaudy gladness inside: run and find that girl, whose name you now recall. Run, along the roads she’s cleared for you, run with a heart made warm by her wine. She’s gone on ahead, but she wants you to come. Run after Advent, take hold of her hand. Take hold of Hope.

 

 

 

 

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community first! village, Uncategorized

This week at the Community First! Village

Our RV moved to its permanent home! Now that the pad sites and utilities are connected in the RV “neighborhood” of the Village, we’ve taken our place here in a little bend in the road. Cedar-green and sunlight streaming through my windows.

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In small ways, we’re celebrating Advent and pondering what it means to wait and hope, watch and keep the faith. Left, tea lights in colored holders form my #rvliving version of an Advent wreath. Right, a few hundred stitches I offered to Church of the Cross, the new Anglican church plant my husband and I attend.

More residents move onto the Village each week, and guests come from around the world. This week my friend Hiram and I taught soap-making with a group of Fulbright scholars from South Korea, China, and Romania.

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Garlic (and strawberries and chamomile and radishes and ALL THE GREENS) flourish in the garden. Goodness grows all winter here.

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And finally, decking the halls is serious business around here. Have you ever seen so many men help decorate a tree? The grand tree lighting will be tomorrow — a celebration for residents, staff, volunteers, and friends of the Village.

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That’s the dispatch from our home — what about yours? What are your emblems and images of these watchful winter days?

 

 

 

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faith, Uncategorized

Waiting on the Word

 

I have not been silent these last few weeks, though I have not written much. My words have been spent through early hours and late, with old friends, new loves, with my husband and my kin, my neighbors and my God.

…in the kitchen, I’ve rolled out countless pie crusts to the rhythm of our tears and tales, pondering together the joyful agony of new covenants: marriages, adoptions, vocations

…in the car, we’ve covered icy miles with hopes and fears for the future, our words blades that makes us strangers again, and  threads that bind and restore

…under the setting sun, I’ve recited the old, best stories of homemaking and creation, learning to believe again as my feet learn the contours of this new, broken ground

…in the morning, we’ve prayed and sang, “O Come, O Come…”

Today, I have no succinct morsel to offer, no pithy conclusion about life or work or the other questions of the hour. Instead, I share with you, today, my poverty: I have spent all my words, and I cannot know what good or harm they have done. I have spent them, and wait to be filled with the full and shattering hope of Advent. I am waiting to write, waiting to speak. I am waiting on the Word.

 

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faith, life together, marriage, scripture

Merry Apocalypse

For Christmas this year, I’m hoping for the apocalypse and sewing my own wedding veil.

I know, it sounds bizarre, like the teaser for a movie about zombie-brides or nuclear winter. Even without zombies, the image is still alarming, isn’t it? What sort of bride hopes for the end of the world?

“Apocalypse” comes from the Greek noun “ἀποκάλυψις,” meaning “an unveiling, a revelation.” Every wedding is a kind of apocalypse. As the bride unveils herself and holds fast to her husband, they become one flesh, revealing, says the Apostle Paul, the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5:29-32). When Christians speak of “the Apocalypse,” we usually mean the ultimate unveiling of God’s Kingdom: Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead (but as foreverstrong people, not zombies!), the reconciliation of heaven and earth, the redemption of the whole created order.

Christmas celebrates this revelation, too. When we remember that the Son of God was born as a wee baby, we see God’s hidden plan writ large among the stars. We believe that he came among us, and we hope he will return.

Hope. That’s a hard word, even for a girl sewing her wedding veil. In fact, preparing for marriage has burdened me with a paradox: that it is much harder to wait for a certain hope than a vague wish. Before I met my fiancé, the thought of marriage inspired neither joy nor despair. As I moved through my twenties and into year thirty, I didn’t think about the prospect of marriage with much hope, but neither did I feel its lack very keenly. I arranged my life in ways that did not require a husband, and I was content.

Now the situation is quite different. A man I love has promised to marry me in the summertime, and so I am spending this long winter waiting. Engagement, I find, feels a lot like Advent. It is a season of dreams and deferral, of smiles and sighs, a time when I must make decisions that include a spouse who is not here. I live, each day, in the confidence that our wedding will come. And yet, that hope unsettles me. Steven lives in Texas, while my home is on the Alabama coast, and missing him hurts more than not knowing he existed. Phone calls and letters offer partial revelations, beautiful but utterly insufficient. Could I have dreamed it all? But no — bright diamonds on a ring of gold say that the bridegroom will come.

In the same way, I think Christmas would be easier to celebrate if we didn’t believe that it heralds the apocalypse, if we didn’t, with all creation, wait “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). Most of us could manage a successful Christmas if the holiday meant only decorating a house and swapping a few gifts. After all, there’s nothing cosmic at stake if Christmas dinner isn’t perfect. But when Christmas asserts our hope in a new heaven and a new earth, redeemed and restored, it hurts to see how much of God’s kingdom remains hidden, even on December 25. It kills us to watch the news, to read the history books, to walk the streets, to listen to our friends–even to look in the mirror–and to realize that the world is still so deeply broken. Should we be preparing wedding veils or donning funeral shrouds?

If we’re like the wise virgins of the parable, we keep our lamps trimmed and burning, announcing our certainty that Christ the bridegroom is on his way. By that light, I’m sewing a wedding veil this Christmas. Mine is a little lamp, and it doesn’t give much heat in the dead of winter. And so I am doing what sad and hopeful people have always done: I’m spending Christmas with those who share my hope, gathering strength from our gathered lights.

Merry Apocalypse, everyone. Some people call it “the end of the world,” but I’ve heard wiser voices call it “the beginning.”

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life together, poetry

Advent (a poem by Christina Rossetti)

Advent

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
‘Watchman, what of the night?’ we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
‘No speaking signs are in the sky,’
Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
‘Watchman, what of the night?’ But still
His answer sounds the same:
‘No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.’

One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
‘Surely He is not far to seek’ –
‘All night we watch and rise.’
‘The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.’

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
‘Friends watch us who have touched the goal.’
‘They urge us, come up higher.’
‘With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.’ – ‘They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.’

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, ‘Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.

Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904), page 202

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faith, life together

A Friend to Sorrow

It is hard to be a friend to Sorrow. She slips in at the least convenient times, always uninvited. You may sit down at the family table, close your eyes to say grace, and feel her cold, strong hand take hold of yours. Or she may slip into your quiet bed, wrapping you in her gown of her grey, rain-soft silk.

At other times she rages: shattering every mirror in the house, overturning the Christmas tree, shaking us by our shoulders until our teeth ache.

We grant her rights at funerals, and grudgingly admit her to hospital rooms. In the autumn, and in certain hours of the evening, we notice that she walks with a kind of grace.  But come sunrise and summer, out she goes, banished through the backdoor.

It is hard to be a friend to Sorrow. She speaks a language we have labored to forget, and her veil makes us nervous, like one who is foreign or deformed. Many, hearing her approach, run away, abandoning home for the sake of escape. Even the best of us grow shy in her presence, baffled by our own helplessness.

It is hard to be a friend to Sorrow, but when she comes, do not drive her out. Offer her a chair and set the tea in front of her. Ask her why she’s come, or if you cannot speak for fear or shame, then simply sit, and let her rest with you. If you let her roam the rooms of your house, you may be surprised to catch her singing a song your mother used to hum.

She attends every birth, dances at every wedding, and has the key to every home. If you open when she knocks, she will not need to batter down the door. So sit with her, and listen, and one day, when you have grown brave again, ask her to remove her veil.

It is hard to be a friend to Sorrow, but we dare not drive her out: for her other name is Love.

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poetry, prayer

And Yet We Wait: An Advent Prayer

Last week, Lord, we gathered and gave thanks,
tasting your goodness,
wondering at the laden table,
holding tight to hands we love.

Today, we rise to empty rooms,
scatter back to distant homes,
savor simpler, sparser meals.

So much seems lost,
so much postponed,
so much beyond recall.

And yet we wait,
not failing nor forgetting,
not rushing nor delaying,
but welcoming the change we cannot see.

For daily bread, O God,
for the kingdom here and coming:
for you, our bread, our king,
we wait.

Amen.

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baking, everyday parables, prayer

Prayers Like Pie Crust

“Promises, like pie crusts, are made to be broken.” So goes the old saying, and it’s hard to dispute the analogy when you spend much of a November morning rolling out rich, thin dough for Thanksgiving pies. You think you’ve shaped the pastry to the perfect circumference, only to see a hole forming where the dough has been stretched too thin. Or the dough sticks when you attempt to transfer it from the counter to the dish. Or you set it in the oven to bake and watch the crust slide down the sides of the plate, muddling into a buttery lump in the bottom of the dish.

However many ways there are to break a pie crust, I think I discovered them all this week. However, as I mixed the dough, rummaged through the cabinets for a rolling pin, rolled and re-rolled, pressed into a pan, it was not promises, but prayers that I was imagining.

Prayer was much on my mind as I prepared for Thanksgiving this year. While I mixed extravagant quantities of butter and flour, my parents and my fiancé were traveling hundreds of miles from the north and the west. This would be their first meeting, and while the particular concerns of each person around the table is family business, the fundamental truths would be true for nearly any table in the world: we were gathering in gratitude, but also in brokenness, our hearts stretched thin by disappointments, fears, and cares.

As I watched and waited for my guests–my family–to arrive, my prayers seemed as fragile as my pie crusts: they were messy, oddly-shaped and stretched much to thin. I would begin one, then doubt its strength, scratch the whole thing and try again. It seemed impossible that my requests for guidance, or peace, or love, could cover all of us. I worried that they would not bear the heat of our need.

In the end, however, I found hope in my little kitchen parable. So my crusts were frail and broken: what else could they be, coming from human hands? Of course, I could have gone to the store and purchased pre-made crusts, buying peace of mind instead of working for it. My prayers were uncertain, too timid, and seemed much to small, but as I prayed them, they reshaped my own heart, pulling into something more strong and vast than I have ever known it to be.

Feeling this strength, I did not give up on my prayers, just as I did not give up on my pie crusts. I took a deep breath and put them to work, filling them with rich pears and spicy ginger, homegrown pecans and hearty sweet potatoes. When we brought the pies to the table, everyone could see and smell that they had done their work. Everyone, whether joyful or fretful, took a bite and pronounced them good.

Prayers, like pie crusts, are made to be broken, not because they are weak, but because it is only in the breaking that they feed us. Like human hearts, like Christ’s body, when our prayers break, they begin to transform us. Break, taste, and see.

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Watching for these everyday parables has become one of my most challenging and rewarding spiritual disciplines, and I find that I notice far more about the life of the spirit when I am working with my hands. If you’re interested in exploring how prayers are like pie crusts–or if you simply want a delicious, easy pie crust–here’s the recipe I love to use.

Bethany’s Simple Pie Crust

(adapted from Elise Bauer’s No-Fail Sour Cream Pie Crust)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar (omit for savory recipes)

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Cube the butter and set aside. Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar (if using). Add the butter and use your hands to incorporate the butter and flour mixture. Continue mixing until you have a crumbly dough with only a few chunks of better visible. Using a fork (or your hands) to mix in the yogurt. Mix until the dough is consistent in color and texture.

Form dough into a ball and cut in half with a knife. Flatten each half into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes.

Before rolling out, sprinkle your work surface with flour. Each disc will roll out to 12-14 inches, enough for a single 9-inch pie plate.

Use the crust according to your own purposes: if you do not pre-bake the crust before filling, you may wish to place it in the freezer for 30 minutes, so that it sets before you fill it. Unless your recipe says otherwise, the crust will bake to done in about 20 minutes in a 350° oven.

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