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.

 

 

 

 

Standard
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.

IMG_8173

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.

IMG_8171

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

IMG_8148

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.

IMG_8178

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

 

 

 

Standard
community first! village

This week at the Community First! Village

Technically, this post should be called, “these weeks at the Community First! Village,” as I’ve fallen a bit behind. Here are two weeks’ worth of the neighborhood sights, sounds, and hopes.

Wandering the neighborhood with our friend and fellow missional community member, Wendy.

IMG_8083

Discovering cochineal bugs on the local prickly pear cactus — an incredible natural dye. Can you see the purple?  IMG_8086

More neighbors every day!

IMG_8079

The cooler weather has the farm cats frisking up, down, in, out, and everywhere!

IMG_8076

A cozy gathering of missional community members, learning together how to be good neighbors.

IMG_8068

Wonderful volunteers helping with micro-enterprise work (soap making) and preparations for the future bed-and-breakfast. IMG_8064 IMG_8039

November comes home to Texas.

IMG_8013

A new favorite fragrance combination: ripe satsuma (from my own tree!) and fresh southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

IMG_8003

And this little tempest-hound, who came barking to our door in the wee hours before a weekend of terrible storms and rains. We couldn’t couldn’t be her forever home, but we were blessed to have this little stranger join our household for a few days. IMG_7985

Standard
faith, homelessness, life together, marriage

The work of the gods

“To organize a space is to repeat the paradigmatic work of the gods.”

I first read this somewhat obscure line when I was a freshman in college. It was comforting to a clever girl who liked things just so, who wanted the books on her shelves and the essays she wrote to be as ordered as the stars in the heavens. I would quote it blithely to my roommate, who never seemed to catch my enthusiasm for straightening up our dorm room. And yet, this insight–from Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane–is not some cant about tidiness being next to godliness. Rather, it means that the way we create and inhabit physical spaces tells a story about how we see the world: who is welcome and who isn’t, what is valuable and what rubbish, what secure and what dangerous. Architecture provides some of the best examples: a house dominated by its enormous garage, for example, tells a very different story from a house with a wrap-around porch.

As my husband and I unpack our tiny new home, I’ve been struggling to articulate what story we are living into in this corner of space and time. Eliade’s line has been a motto of mine for years, and with every apartment, classroom, and office I’ve inhabited, I have tried to organize–even to consecrate–spaces that bear witness to the image of God. In these first days after the honeymoon, however, I have often felt found my efforts to “repeat the work of the gods” frustrated at every step: not enough cabinets in the RV kitchen, disagreements about where the skillets should live, no way to put up curtains. I could no longer rely on muscle memory or habit to tell me where the trashcan was, where to find a dishtowel, much less how to drive to the post office or grocery store. Having to switch to a new cell phone felt like the final insult. “I can’t find the exclamation point on this stupid keyboard!” I sobbed to my bewildered spouse. “It feels like everything is broken!”

These frustrations, though trivial in themselves, have been emblematic of a much larger disorientation. I still feel myself bewildered on this new ground. From our little window each morning, I watch parades of workers roll into the village: construction crews laying cement, volunteers building tiny homes, future residents coming to tend the gardens, even my own husband walking and dreaming about the best way to make this place home. I watch, and I envy them. I envy their purpose and certainty, their knowledge of what to do now, and next.

To organize a space is to repeat the work of the gods.

But we are not gods, none of us. Our ability to order the world, creating that gives our lives meaning, is painfully, blessedly fragile. The job falls through. The long-awaited pregnancy surprises everyone. The house burns. We fall in love. We walk through days, each looking much the same — routine hours, tasks, and dreams. We might proceed for ten, twenty, thirty years, secure in our own vision of the world, until — something breaks.

This summer, instead of simply quoting Eliade, I have gone back to read the rest of his argument. In his spare, calm prose, he asserts something I had forgotten: that before a cosmos can grow into life and order, the old order must break. This break might be terrible or beautiful, climax or tragedy. Regardless, it interrupts our path, interferes with our clocks, leaves the well-ordered room in shambles. No longer can we claim that time and space are all one thing, predictable and uniform. Eliade argues that this break is what allows us to really see the world, to enter into a story bigger than ourselves, a story that does not leave us broken, but re-orients us according to the true center of the world. By shattering the old certainties, the experience of rupture “reveals the fixed point, the central axis for all future orientation.”

Of course, like all deep truths, I actually learned all of this long ago in Sunday School. It was there I first heard the thrilling injunction, “Your life should make no sense without the Gospel.” Christ has come to establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and this Gospel is both εὐαγγέλιον — “good news,” and σκάνδαλον — a stumbling block. In our first month of marriage, I have felt my heart tearing and growing in this tension. Our house is an RV–it trembles under heavy footsteps, and looks–to my fretful eyes–terribly transient. And yet, it is a space we have organized, consecrated, for the sake of a mission that makes my heart rise up: to repeat–in our trembling, tiny way–the work of the God we worship, who “settles the solitary in a home,” and who created earth as a beautiful garden for mankind to cultivate and keep. We are living here because I fell in love with a man who proposed by saying, “Let’s be ministers of homemaking,” and we have set up our household on the broken, hopeful ground of a place called the Community First! Village. Here, side by side, among the chronically homeless and the people of Austin, we hope to set a table, provoke conversations, plant gardens, make books and babies, find and share good work in ways we never could elsewhere. This space–our home– has high windows and sunflowers on the table. From our door, we step out to join the countless men and women who arrive daily, giving their hearts and hands to help build a true community for those who are alone. It is a place where my husband can walk home for lunch, where friends and future neighbors have already stopped to sit, laugh, and walk with us. It is a space where I can write, and it is perched on beautiful ground: home already to trees and breezes, hares and goats, chickens and children of God. To the extent that I notice and name these things, it is a place where every morning, my envy gives way to hope.

The homes I organize will never again embody my private vision of what is lovely or good. They will be far more complicated, in turns deeper and more demanding. In marriage and in community life, my work will take place in communal, vibrant, maddening, inspiring place, grounded on the fear of the Lord and centered around the love of his living Word. I am terrified and thrilled, grieving and in love, timid and hopeful all at once. I cannot do the work of the gods, but I know how to tell a story. Believe me, friends: this is going to be a good one.

Standard
faith, homelessness, life together

My Broken Saints

As 2015 begins, I am making my home with two broken saints.

The first was a housewarming gift from my mother. Buying Beth-Haven was one of the loveliest hours during a long season of triumph: completed PhD, wonderful job, and now, a perfect little cottage to call home.  St. Francis was to serve as a token of welcome, a sign of hope for all creatures great and small who might come to share the house with me.

Unfortunately, when we opened the box we found him broken. I had neither the skill nor materials to mend him, but I could not bear to toss him into the trash.  It hurt to look at him, knowing that my mother had wanted to give a perfect gift, and realizing that we had no way to repair him. Broken Francis stood between us, embodying the fractures in every human relationship, even the most loving. What do we do with such signs of pain? Cast them away? Order a newer model?

At first, the best I could do was to station Francis at the front door. He wasn’t pretty enough to set upon the mantle, but he seemed content in his humble place. Sometimes this is the best we can do with painful relationships: sometimes it takes all our strength to keep them in the house, to look at their broken faces each day, to acknowledge that we are still at home together.

A few weeks later, some of my friends’ children taught me an even better way. While the grown-ups talked, they went foraging for azalea blossoms, which cover south Alabama in the springtime. After everyone had gone home I found that they had found my broken saint. Rather than fear or pity him, they played with St. Frank, filling his hands with flowers. My timid fidelity has resigned Francis to a dusty corner, but they had more courage: if they could not mend what was broken, they could find other ways to make him beautiful.

IMG_6018

And so my first broken saint became, after all, a sign of hope, encouraging me not to give up on problems I could not solve, hearts I could not mend. Lesson learned, right? Apparently not.

I had nearly forgotten about my front-door saint when two of my college friends announced the birth of their second child, a daughter. I found a beautifully illustrated version of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures,” and I decided to make a St. Francis softie to accompany the book. I loved the idea of a little girl growing up to cherish Francis’s reckless love for God’s kingdom and all its creatures.

I bought the fabric from a friend’s Etsy shop, embellished the saint with some simple embroidery, and then stitched and stuffed him. Before I could send him off to his new home, however, my hound-dog decided he must be a gift for her. I came home to find bits of his stuffing all over the dining room floor. The saint himself was missing an arm and he boasted enormous gashes across his face and halo. Distraught, I posted a picture of the carnage and appealed for sympathy. What’s the point of making something, I pouted, if perfect is impossible?

My friends, however, insisted that all was not lost. One of the most compelling comments came from the mother whose baby was to have the toy. “Scars and stretch marks tell a story,” she wrote “especially in the story of mothers and babies.” Several other friends pointed out that Francis himself, a patron to animals, would probably laugh to know that an exuberant hound had taken such joy at his expense.

And so, I scrubbed the dirt away, threaded my needle with gold, and began to stitch the holes. Mending is tedious work, and to fix a jagged tear requires both precision and creativity. As I stitched, I remembered one of the first disagreements my fiancé and I had. We argued about the once-popular praise song that croons, “Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for….” I have hated that song since I was a teenager. I suspect it fools many people into praying a prayer they don’t actually mean. Even knowing that God can use sorrow, I don’t ever yearn for pain. I want to be whole, healed, strong, resurrected. And didn’t Christ, on the night he was betrayed, pray that the cup of sorrow might pass from him?

Yes, and yet he also prayed, “Not my will, but yours, Father.” He didn’t accept pain for its own sake, but as the culmination of his purpose: to reveal God’s saving love to mankind. He was obedient even unto death, and when he rose from the grave, he still carried the scars of his crucifixion. Do the scars point to some limit on God’s mercy or power? Certainly not. God could have raised Christ with each and every cell made perfect.  So why leave the marks? I won’t presume to know the deepest answer to that question, but I can point to at least one of the ways Christ used those wounds: in John 20:24-29, he holds them out to his grieving friend, Thomas. The flesh tells a story, helping Thomas to believe that Christ taught about the new life and the kingdom that is coming.

And so, while I could have ordered a new Francis and scrapped the old one, I chose to mend. I chose to hope that  the baby–who will, no doubt, gnaw on Francis with as much glee as my hound–will grow to love the humble and the broken of the world. That she would learn to treasure God’s saints not only in their glory, but also when they bear the scars of love.

IMG_6998Perhaps I need to pray that prayer for myself. I share my house with two broken saints: one mended, one broken but with flowers in his hands. I am beginning to think that they are not only saints, but prophets. They teach me that our love for another fails daily, but also that, by the grace of God, we can sometimes help one another mend. They also teach me that some wounds are too deep for my hands to repair, but that we can bring flowers, time, casseroles until the wounded hands of Christ come and make all well.

In a few months I will make my home with another Francis. This one isn’t broken, but he is weather-beaten. He watches over a parcel of land that is already precious to me. First, it will soon house a revolutionary ministry to the homeless. (It’s called the Community First! Village, and you can learn more about it here). It will also be the ground where my marriage begins.

IMG_6917I am sure that when I take up this new chapter of my life, I will find myself overwhelmed by all that is broken in my own life, in my husband’s, and in the lives of men and women who have spent years on the streets. Surely, there will be days I want to escape. Already there are days I rail at God for not fixing everything and everyone at once. I still won’t sing “Brokennes is what I long for,” just as I still wish, deep down, that my dog hadn’t mauled St. Francis. However, I will pray and sing for God’s kingdom to come. If that means making my home among so many broken saints, then God give me grace to love them well. If that means being broken upon the altar, then Spirit give me the courage to be thankful for that suffering. Christ, teach me to fill their hands with flowers. Help us ask one another for the stories behind our scars. Use their broken hands to stitch my own wounds up with gold.

Standard
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.

10428706_743113838162_728895070385705007_n

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.

Standard
prayer

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Beautiful Savior,
let us rest today in the symmetry of grace:
teach us to trust before we see the fruit,
to celebrate the ever-promised harvest,
but also, Lord, to notice what has come:
the heavy branch, the sweet windfall,
the lover’s voice, the reconciled friend.

And as we come, your wistful people,
fill our works and words with grace:
the beauty of a mother with her child,
the strength of a father’s laugh,
the bustle of a crowded table,
the wisdom of an athlete in his race,
the skill of a spider with her web,
the trust in the eyes of a loyal hound,
the ache in the hands that have done good work.

Clumsy and fretting, we stumble into you.
O God of our Thanksgiving, give us grace.

Amen.

Standard