Category Archives: Easter

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

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Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

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The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

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I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

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Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Vegetarianism, Stress, Grace

I’m avoiding cleaning the house by watching Animal Cops Houston and Pitbulls & Parolees, and I am sitting here bawling like a baby. This might be PMS, but it’s more than likely a response to something I’ve been feeling for a while.

I have reached a point, yet again, in my life where I am finding it difficult to morally and ethically justify eating animals. The paleo diet I was following, where I ate meat with a side of meat, sickens me to think about now. Will I miss the chicken wings? Yes. Will I still eat them occasionally? Likely. Will this be something I reconsider in a couple of years, a couple of months, a couple of weeks? Maybe.

I consider myself prolife in all regards, and I am leaning more and more toward the fact that I need that to include animal lives in that prolife consideration. I desire a consistent ethic in companies I support, friends I make, places I work, and religious institutions I belong to, so it makes sense that I would hold myself to the same standards. I love my cats and my dogs, I am in awe and wonder of wild animals, so it makes zero sense that I eat animals.

I’m trying to get back to a place of peace in my life, to reduce my stress, which has been astronomical for about two years. While I do think that eating more protein has helped me, I also don’t think that ingesting the violence of our current farming practices and ingesting the violence of death has helped me to be a better person. Call me a hippie, but I just can’t get past the fact that a sentient, living, breathing being has to die to feed me. This facet of meat eating has never really stopped bothering me. I have dreams about animals chasing me, and they have never gone away.

On the day after Easter, on baseball’s opening day, I am going back to being vegetarian. This does not mean I’ll start eating a bunch of wheat, soy, corn, or other things that have been genetically modified, but this should mean that our grocery bill will go down a bit, since beans, rice, and vegetables are generally less expensive than meat. I’m not going to be vegan, so I will still use organic dairy and eggs, as I have been. Does the treatment of dairy cattle and chickens bother me? Yes, but I need to take this slow.

I’ve had a good portion of stress in my life in the past two years. I’m not whining about this, but I have noticed that the stress is taking a toll on my body. My body simply feels inflamed. My entire body. My brain feels foggy, my lungs are congested, and my joints are achy, and I think it’s because of stress, so I’m not trying to add more stress by making yet another drastic change in my life.

I’m in a good place right now. My new Caribou is less stressful, because we have more people working at a time. Since I am working my way up to manager, I can even pay my bills. I’m finally getting used to our new house and our new geographical location. I’m making some friends up here, and I am maintaining my friendships with folks in Indiana. I’m adjusting after about six months of the extreme stress of moving 10.5 hours away from where I’d lived for 40 years and changing careers from a professional job where I made $48000 a year to a food service job making $8 an hour. The transition was rough, but now I am through it, and I am ready to take back control of my body (through diet), my mind (through reading), and my spirit (through prayer and meditation).

I’m still training for the Muncie 70.3, though it’s been pretty hit or miss recently, and I am training for Sour Grapes and Big Shoulders. I’ve learned that it’s rough to be on my feet for six. seven, or eight hours a day at work and then still train, but I keep working on it. I’m working on giving myself grace for the times I don’t train. And I keep giving myself grace for being in a weird head space for the past year or so.

Sunday, Sunday: Some Thoughts About Lent

WARNING: This post is very disjointed. Sorry about the hop, skip, jumpiness of it. In the words of Nehemiah: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Apparently, I can’t write today either. Ha!

I sat in church today thinking about the purpose of Lent. I noticed a couple of things that I’d like to find out more about. We didn’t do the confessional part of the liturgy, I suspect because Lent is supposed to be focused on being confessional. Our retired Rector, Fr. Charlie, unintentionally spilled the water that is hidden under the lectern for the speaker or preacher of the day, I suspect to remind us all in a hilariously accidental way of our baptisms and of our own humanity. I learned a new term: Ember Day. With a quick Internet search, I found that ember days are for prayer and fasting, and they are days that mark the quarters of the Christian calendar. I still would like to learn more about this new liturgical observation.

For me Lent has always been a time in the liturgical calendar to pray, fast, and re-find myself in the face of Christ. This year for me Lent is the most wilderness it has been for a long time. Mind you, I have been so far from Christ for a few years that I haven’t really paid any attention to Lent other than it being a season in the calendar. For a couple of years, we haven’t really regularly attended church, so Lent was just the thing that lead up to Easter. There’s this idea that the way we understand ideas or concepts is by gaining a better understanding of the opposite, and I am pretty sure I fully understand the beauty that is Christ because of my propensity to wallow in the opposite. I know the wilderness. I know the desert. At points in my life, I’ve known the barren lands so well that I never thought I’d find my way back, or want to.

But now I am here. In the symbolic wilderness of Lent. I feel the sadness. I feel the temptation. I feel the loneliness. I feel this in juxtaposition to the joy, the warmth, the holiness, and the grace I have felt in Christ since the first Sunday of Advent. I feel like I have been called home only to be cast back into the dark. The cross is covered. The baptismal font is gone. The confessions are removed form the liturgy. We are in utter theological darkness. This concept, as I tried (but poorly) to articulate in my post about the road trip, has never been so clear to me in my life as it is in this particular Lent season.

Because of our impending move, this Lent season brings for me lots of last moments. Yesterday when we were at the Mounds, I said to Bec, “Later this spring, I’ll bring you back and we can walk the route of the race I just ran, because it’s beautiful.” Only I won’t, because she’ll be in Minnesota. Later in the say I said to my brother, “Next year when we run this Shamrock Beer Run, we’ll know to get here really early or really late to avoid the horrible bottle neck at the start line.” He said back to me, “Only you won’t be here next year, you’ll be in Minnesota.” True. My parents brought Bec and me a few dozen eggs, and I thought to myself that pretty soon I’d not be getting delicious farm fresh eggs every week, nor would I be able to just call them up for a coffee or to see me run a race. So far this Lent I’ve had the intense pain and pleasure of having many lengthy conversations with both friends and family to help me discern my future.

Who am I? Who is God? Where do I find my worth? What makes me live? What is my calling? What brings me joy? What vexes me? How can I reconcile the various facets of my life? What the fuck am I doing? Why? Am I seeking God’s will? These are just a few of the questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few weeks.

At church this morning, the Eucharist had a different meaning for me, and I can assume for Bec, since we both shed a few tears when we went back to the pew to kneel and contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ body and blood. She carefully thread her arm through mine and held my hand tightly. I am not sure if it was for my benefit or hers. We both know this time of transition will be more difficult and longer than we’d like. At any rate, the Eucharist today gave me an intense hope in the future. The Eucharist has a beautiful of doing that: reminding me that God is bigger than the wilderness. No matter the darkness, no matter my lostness or helplessness, God is there. Christ is real and present in my friends and family. I am not alone in this journey. Jesus is there. With me. In the wilderness.

I love the season of Lent, because I allow myself time to think about the darker more mysterious parts of my Christian faith. And I hate the season of Lent for the same reasons. Perhaps this is why Easter brings such joy. I cling to this hope. I cling to the promise of a risen Christ.

What I Ate Wednesday: Ash Wednesday

Today instead of providing you pictures of my food, I am simply going to tell you what I ate and then discuss a bit about Ash Wednesday, which seems a wee bit more important than food.

Breakfast: Greek yogurt with oats, a banana, some blackberries, raw honey, and some cinnamon

Lunch: an orange and a snickers bar

Snack: some Cowboy bark from Trader Joe’s

Dinner: chicken bacon bites, broccoli, and a Wee Mac

As you can tell it was a very healthy way to welcome the Lenten season. Ha! Not really, but I am focusing on clean eating for the duration of Lent.

Today was the first time I have ever been to an actual Ash Wednesday service at a church that actually marked people’s foreheads with ashes, and I must say that the liturgy for Ash Wednesday is beautiful. Tragic and sad and penitential, but beautiful. For today, not realizing it was Ash Wednesday, I had assigned my Bible as literature students the story of David and Bathsheba and Psalm 51. I also didn’t realize when I assigned those texts that Psalm 51 would be used in today’s liturgy. I bring this forward simply because I love Psalm 51 and I pray it whenever I need a moment of recentering or reconnection with God, so it is especially meaningful for me. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Those words, spoken by the priest before preparing the wine and the bread every Sunday and spoken by the tiny congregation today in penitence, are especially meaningful in my life. I’ve had so many moments when I just want a redo. I just want to go back and go over those things I didn’t do right the first time. I want to offer a broken and contrite heart, because I know that is the offering that my Lord seeks. Today,  I was pleasantly surprised when we made it through the liturgy to the Psalm reading and there it was after I had just read and prepared to discuss it with my students. And, as a special bonus, my students had the best discussion about that Psalm and the David story. They truly did an excellent job.

I was moved by the Eucharist today, as I usually am. I don’t know if it’s my oversensitivity right now, or if I have finally reconnected with my faith, but I nearly cried at the presence of Jesus in the wine and bread today. If that is my response to Ash Wednesday, I can’t wait for Holy Friday this year. I’ll be a blubbering mess! I never know what God is up to in my life, but I always just take for granted that it’s something good. I’m just resting in the fact that God brought me to the Episcopal Church at this time in my life for a reason, because I feel comfortably challenged there. And I feel God’s presence, most importantly.

I do have to say that it was a little awkward walking around with an ash cross on my forehead, considering that I had never done it before. While I don’t mind evangelizing or discussing faith or theology, obviously, I was a bit concerned about doing it at school. Everything worked out fine, but one student thought I had gotten a new tattoo. Odd.

Mystic Monday on Shrove Tuesday: Richard of St. Victor

Today is Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or the day before Ash Wednesday. If you know anything about me, you know that Lent is the most important Christian season to me and Easter is my favorite holiday. I have been drawn to the penitence of Lent since a young age, because it gives me a chance to contemplate my shortcomings while also focusing on the grace that will come through Holy Week, Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This morning I asked Bec if she was going to go to Ash Wednesday service with me, and she said,”I know that’s important to you some years, but I don’t really need to go.” There’s a lot of truth in the first part of that statement, but it correlates to my closeness or desire for Christ and my ability to feel God’s presence in my church. Since the first Sunday of Advent when I stepped into Grace Episcopal, I have felt at home, more at home than I’ve felt in a church setting a good long while. The theology is right, the service is perfectly liturgical and monastic feeling, Fr. Tom is intelligent and challenges us, and the people are friendly and open to all folks. So, of course, this year I feel a draw to celebrate Lent in all of its capacities, starting with Ash Wednesday tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure how fasting and contemplation will look for the course of Lent this year, but I will do as led during the service tomorrow.

During my morning contemplation this morning I read a bit from The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism and I came across this quote by Richard of St. Victor a 12th century monastic who wrote The Four Degrees of Violent Charity: “So, we now have the four degrees of violence in burning love that I have set forth above. The first degree of violence is when the mind cannot resist its desire; the second degree is when the mind cannot forget it; the third degree is when it cannot taste anything else; the fourth and last degree is when that desire cannot satisfy it. Therefore, the first degree love is insuperable, in the second inseparable, in the third singular, in the fourth insatiable. Insuperable love is what does not allow other attractions; inseparable love is what cannot be forgotten; singular love is what admits no companion; insatiable love is what cannot be satisfied.” Richard applies this same set of four degrees to romantic love (which will create a deity of a lover), Christian love (which creates the most perfect union between a person and God), and familial love (which culminates in the parents’ love for the child).

What I am drawn to is the idea that perfect love is violent, charity is violent. With some quick refreshment of my biblical languages, I find that charity (caritas) is frequently the way that love (agape) is translated in the vulgate, so the idea of love being violent fits right in with the idea that we should simultaneously love and fear God. The idea of violence never really appeals to me, and yet, when I look at the biblical text, I see repeated examples of God being violent and God’s followers being violent. In fact, that violence looks a lot like the four stages or degrees of love outlines above.

1) Insuperable love: “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.” —Deuteronomy 4:24

2) Inseparable love: “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” —Deuteronomy 6:7-9

3) Singular love: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” —Song of Solomon 6:3

4) Insatiable love: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,  as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” —Psalm 63:1

While contemplating this ideas of violent caritas/agape, I began thinking of the ways in which each level is presented in the biblical text. I am convinced that every biblical concept can come back to a new testament woman, and this one comes back to the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Here’s the story

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Maybe it’s whimsical thinking, but this woman seems to exhibit all four degrees of love for Jesus in a way that humbles me and makes me wish I could put aside my self-consciousness and worldly concerns and fall at the feet of Jesus, only Jesus, and pour myself out until I can only be filled up with him. Total love, total grace, total peace, and total beauty. Four degrees of caritas/agape: insuperable, inseparable, singular, and insatiable.