Category Archives: Lent

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.

Advent, Food and Exercise, Writing, and Stress

Most people who know me would not be able to believe that my two favorite liturgical seasons are Lent and Advent, in that order. I love spiritual waiting, because I know at the end of the wait there will be Jesus. I love the anticipation of Jesus, who is in all ways God, coming to earth in all ways human during Advent. I reluctantly wait for his inevitable death with the promise of resurrection during Lent. There is nothing quite like spiritual anticipation to make a person realize how blessed we are on this earth, how much the God of the universe cares for us and gives us grace. I agree with Nadia Bolz-Weber when she insists that our spiritual and theological lives consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of little deaths, resurrections, and rebirths (paraphrase). So it is every day for me. Anticipation of these spiritual events keeps me keeping on. Anticipation gives me hope.

Contrarily, I do not love earthly waiting. Instead I am like the cliché kid in the candy shop, wanting to take as little time as possible to make things happen in this world. I want things and I want them now. Maybe that’s why I put so much stock in Advent and Lent; it makes feel as if I have some otherworldly waiting ability. Anyway, I’m in a period of waiting now, on this earth, for the next steps. I’m leaving teaching at the end of May, at least for a while, until I can figure out what I want to do with myself. I’m hoping to be a bartender, or a barista, or something that involves the outdoors for a bit. I need to regroup and rethink and refocus. So, I am waiting to see what comes next. And it feels like an eternity. And it feels like so many things to figure out. And it feels overwhelming.

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Well, I tried a Whole 30, but again didn’t succeed. It takes a lot of work for me to be that strict with my food. Food is love and grace for me, and I still want to share in happy hour with my friends. Maybe I’m a weak person, maybe I have no self-control (see above, I want it, now), maybe I need a legitimate starting point like New Year’s to make things stick, maybe I’m just destined to be a fat kid. Who knows? What I do know is that from my lowest weight last year until now, I’ve gained almost 30 pounds. I chalk it up to stress, since I eat my feelings. I chalk it up to the mild depression I feel every fall/winter, since I sometimes don’t even want to get out of bed.

I am nowhere near my fattest, but I am not happy with this weight gain, because I can’t run, bike, or swim as fast. That being said, I’m cruising through the holidays, and then I’ll try to make some changes. It’s too much to try to be festive and self-policing at the same time.

I have also fallen short of my yearly goal this year to move my body 5 miles each day. I don’t think there’s any way for me to accomplish this goal, since my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with my grand plan of completing a mini-triathlon each day. I did four days worth, but then my body sort of said, “Fuck you, fatty, this is too much exercise.” And now my foot hurts, and I don’t think I can do it. But I’m going to try again starting tomorrow.

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I’ve been trying to write with my students this semester, but all I’ve gotten out of it is a load of crap and some really bad starts to several nonsensical stories. I am taking a teaching creative writing class this spring semester, so I can make something out of my classes for my PhD that I won’t be using for an actual PhD, since I quit. I hope the muse comes back to me before I have to start working on my creative project for the Master’s degree I’ll be trying to get. It’ll be in creative writing, and I have to write a new creative nonfiction piece that is publishable. This may be a bit tricky. Anyway, my whole point is I need a muse.

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I have never felt so much stress at any point in my life up to this date. I can’t imagine being a person who is this stressed all the time, nor can I fathom how some people function while carrying around such a huge load of anger, suspicion, and doubt as I see people carrying. I have found myself wondering how people keep from simply collapsing under the weight of the burdens they bear, because I sometimes feel like I could cave to the small amount of things I shoulder.

During this Advent, my heart hurts for people who experience stress, despair, anger, suspicion, doubt, hate, a painful past, or illness, and I pray and hope for healing, peace, love, and grace to visit them through me. I anticipate that the risen Christ will show through me and my actions as I love people this Advent. I anticipate being grace.

Common Prayer, Exercise, Whole 30 (Day 1)

We don’t have school today, which is nice because I get to have a sneak preview into what summer will be like. I got up at about 6:00 this morning, leisurely put on my clothes and shoes, and ran the two miles to Ball Pool. I hopped into the pool at 7:00AM and swam a little over a mile, then walked home, arriving by 8:30. I moved my body 5 miles by 8:30. How amazing will summer be?! I will be able to have all of my “required” exercise (it’s my goal to move at least 5 miles every day) and my morning prayers/quiet time finished by 9AM, and then I’ll have the whole rest of the day to work on art, house chores, gardening, or whatever, and because I’ve switched to the paleo/primal diet, I actually have energy to do things! All of these things are perfect meditations in the love of God. Moving the body. Contemplating God’s word. Praying for others. Being meditative.

But, we still have about thirty-five days of school left, so I can’t get too excited about summer yet. Not that I am counting down the days, because I don’t really do that. I generally love school. One of my favorite times of year is when I get to buy new school supplies and a few clothes.

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Today’s morning prayers had a snippet about Dietrich Boenhoeffer, and the thought-provoking quote provided from him really made me think: “So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.” Generally, I don’t look at other people as foes, but the first part of that really struck me. I spend a good portion of my time thinking about how I could be a better Christian, and that vision usually includes some form of me living in a convent or some other monastic situation where I don’t have too much contact with the outside world. Boenhoeffer is so right, though. My Christianity really means nothing if it’s cut off from the world, hidden behind closed doors. The idea of Monastic life, as manifested by the folks who live at Simple Way in Philadelphia, really appeals to me. They are making a difference while still living according to a modified version of the ancient cycle of monastic life. It’s really beautiful and there is so much good.

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This Lent really changed me. I feel much more hopeful, much more alive. Being out in the wilderness was good for me. Having a friend to talk with about how that feels was helpful. Fasting during Holy Week made the whole 40-ish days come alive, and I realized (again) in a very real way the humanity of Jesus: he was a real man, with friends and family, who suffered horribly and died. However, you interpret the act of the cross, the actual human events leading up to it must have been excruciating for Jesus and for all those whose lives were touched by his. Then, yesterday, the very real joy of Easter came crashing into me in a way I’ve never experienced before. I teared up a bit at the sunrise service. Maybe my life with Christ needed some attention, maybe I needed the Bible to become real for me again, maybe I just needed to make some tough decisions, or maybe I just needed to listen, really listen, to what I am being called to do. It certainly isn’t a life that’s so busy I don’t have time for friends, family, or even people I don’t really know. I’m called to a more contemplative life, a life filled with spiritual thinking, grace, love, and peace. Now my only problem is figuring out how to make this life I envision, this life I am called to, a reality.

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Duh, I published this without adding the thing that made me start to write this post. Today is the first day of my Whole 30 experience. I forgot I was going to start it today, so I bought some yogurt for breakfast this week, but I am just going to freeze it and eat it when I am finished. I have only one cheat for the next 30 days, and that’s raw honey. I’ve been eating a tablespoon of it every day for my allergies, and it seems to be working, so I don’t want to cut that out. Other than that, I am Whole 30 all the way!

The

Christ Has Risen: Happy Easter

I don’t know about you, but for me Easter Sunday always brings with it a great and overwhelming sense of joy. Lent and the 40 days of wilderness and darkness are over. Jesus the Christ has conquered death and offered the promise of new and eternal life! Is there any better promise, anything more hopeful?

We attended two very different, but equally meaningful Easter services today.

This morning as we walked to the outdoor sunrise service given by Lutheran Church of the Cross, I thought about my colleagues who look down upon Christianity because it isn’t rational or based in science. Several times I have been made, by my academic peers, to feel as if my beliefs stem from some sort of ignorance or naïveté, or that my willingness to believe in the Christian miracles somehow negates any intelligence I might have, minimizing the worth of my intellectual pursuits, as if my religion or my spirituality disenables me to participate in rational, academic thought. But, I don’t want my faith to be anything but faith. I don’t want the mystery to be sucked out of the Easter miracles by rationality or intellectualism. I want my Jesus to stay firmly in the realm of things I can’t prove, but that I know to be true. I don’t think my willingness to believe in miracles negates my ability to think. Nor does my ability to think negate the childlike whimsy with which I place my faith in Jesus who died, who resurrected, and who will come again. I consciously choose to place my faith in something I cannot prove. I have not been brainwashed, led astray by a band of scallywags, nor forced into believing some mumbo jumbo against my will. My faith stands with the resurrected Christ, and I eagerly anticipate his return.

As we walked to the Nature Area at Minnetrista, I also thought about how beautiful this creation is and is becoming. I looked around at my surroundings and spent time thanking God for the grass, the trees, the birds, the flowers, the insects, and all of those things which were surrounding me. We were laughing, holding hands, and anticipating the service at which we’d celebrate Jesus, his body broken and repaired, when we realized that the gate between the field we were in and the Nature Area where we needed to be was closed. Could we walk around? Maybe. But there was enough space for us to go under the gate, so on our way to Easter sunrise service we rolled under the big, black iron (steel?) gate. We thought the sight must have been hilarious, and we sort of wished we could have filmed it. The experience definitely put us in the right, good, and joyful mood that Easter calls for.

What We Saw When We Sat Down:
Communion and Fire Pit

My own Easter blessing.
I love it when the sun rises while the moon is still up.

The Message

The message at the sunrise service focused on Mark 16 and the role of the women. Later I mentioned to Becky that the three times we’ve been to Easter services where women were officiants, they’ve preached from this passage. There is something so empowering about this bit of Mark’s gospel: the women were the first to know the good news. And there is something status quo about the same passage: they didn’t say anything because they were terrified. Whenever I have read or considered this section of scripture, I have always entertained all the possible reasons the women might be terrified. Were they worried that no one would believe them? Did they think people would think they had done something with the body? Were they afraid because the news they carried would turn an entire religious and cultural system on its head? Were they like so many other throughout history who have been afraid to speak? Were they afraid they’d be accused of blasphemy? Were they afraid at the greatness and glory of the news they’d just heard? Why were they so afraid they didn’t tell anyone? Of course, my really cynical side wonders if they did tell everyone, but then their story was stolen by men who wanted the glory of proclaiming the good news. I would suppose it’s a combination of all of these things, but it’s a beautiful thing that at least Mark’s gospel gives women the first knowledge of this new paradigm, even though they were too terrified to share it. This passage is one of several reasons that Mark and Luke are my favorite gospels, giving the role that women played in Jesus’ ministry fair exposure. I enjoyed being invited to think through these ideas again this morning.

Sculpture at Minnetrista On the Way Home From Sunrise

The Courtyard at Minnetrista on the Way Home From Sunrise

When the sunrise service was over, we went home and had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs with spinach and bleu cheese and bacon. At 10:30, we attended the church we’ve been attending for about a year and a half or so, Commonway Church. The service was in the usual style, but there were several baptisms and we had communion for the first time that I can think of since last Easter. Matt’s sermon focused on the history of resurrection theology as found in the Jewish scriptures, and he encouraged us to remember that we have a resurrection coming. He reminded us that Jesus shocked the disciples by proclaiming to be the embodiment of the resurrection, essentially the embodiment of their future. Jesus was saying, “Your hope of the coming age is in me,” reminding us that Jesus Kingdom is the already, but not yet Kingdom of God. As a bonus, we sang one of my favorite songs: “Lay ‘Em Down” by Need to Breathe.

It is won. It is done.

Our Easter Gift from Commonway's Band, A Lobby Concert

Each of these sermons spoke to me on a different level. Obviously, the first sermon spoke to me as a woman, reminding me of the critical role of women in the Kingdom of God. The second reminded me of the strong Jewish theology that Paul used to explain the work that Jesus was and is doing here on this earth.

(Holy) Saturday Between Death and Resurrection

The Saturday between Holy Friday and Easter Sunday is usually a day I spend wondering what exactly Jesus’ death on the cross means for us. Does it mean that God was “dead” for a day? Or does it mean that Jesus, the human, was dead for a day? Does it mean both? Does it mean neither? Did Jesus descend into hell? Does hell really exist? What did the disciples, both the men and the women, do for the day? What does anyone do when they are mourning the loss of a friend, a mentor, a love, a son? Did any of them anticipate what was coming? Did any of them have any foresight of the resurrection, since all the clues were  there? What does it all mean for us as Christians? What does it mean for anyone else? Basically, I usually spend Saturday worrying myself into a mess of emotion by the time Easter comes and I can celebrate the risen Christ.

This year was no exception. However, I found several meaningful distractions for myself, which took the pressure off of this Saturday.

By 7:30 in the morning I was picking up a couple of my students, so we could go run a trail race at Mounds State Park in Anderson. Neither one of them had ever run a trail race before, so the car was all full of nervous energy and excitement, as we discussed the possible layout of the course and strategies for running longer distances (they were running the 15K). We talked about all types of other things, too, which always makes driving more fun. When we got to Mounds, we registered, got our bibs, and went back to the car to change. The weather was freezing. Literally. The race started on slick, frost-covered grass. They started at 9AM, and my race, the 5K, started at 9:10.

By the time I made it into the woods and off of the grass, I was wheezing and coughing. So much for the honey helping with grass allergies, though it has worked wonders for the tree and flower allergies, because I haven’t been nearly as congested or wheezy as I was last spring. So, I ran coughing and wheezing into the woods, and I realized that everything I told the boys about the race was wrong. The race organizers used every hill at the Mounds, which is a lot of them, and the course was really challenging. The end of the 5K went up the 80 steps to the pavilion, and my legs burned and my heart felt it might explode by the time I crossed the finish line. But let’s go back for a minute: somewhere in the middle of the race, I decided I should walk up the hills and careen down them, which is a tactic I’ve never used before, but I thought it might be helpful in this race. Then, I thought, if I am going to do that, why not be playfully contemplative. So as I ran, in my mind I thought about the Jesus questions, while using my body to respond to my fears and doubts in a playful way. I had more fun and learned more about myself in that race than in any other I’ve ever run. And, I used the time to do my usual Holy Saturday reflection. As I crossed the finish line, the clock read 00:52:53.0. I had finished this grueling race in about 17 minutes a mile. I was pretty excited.

Fred, Me, Logan: We Pretty Much Rocked

I cheered for Logan and I cheered for Fred. And then I realized, after they finished, that the time clock was set for the 15K. I could take 10 whole minutes off of my time. I had finished the 5K in my my best time ever—00:42:43.0! I considered this a pretty decent accomplishment, since that meant my average time per mile was 13.68 minutes, and I hadn’t run a mile in thirteen and a half minutes in about 9 months. And this was on crazy terrain! Now I was elated. I was more elated when I realized that Logan came in second and Fred came in fourth in their age group. At their first ever trail race. I was really proud of us. You can see our times by following the links here.

Sierra Nevada Porter: The Beer of the Personal Record

I also distracted my self from thinking too much or too seriously about the death of Jesus by going to some friends’ house for a bonfire. We drank some beers, ate some wieners, and roasted some marshmallows. We also burned a stool, talked about theology, sports, and life, and decided to attend the outdoor Easter sunrise service together. The evening was a usual amazing night with two great friends.

This was one ridiculously hot fire.