My West Virginia Morning: Beautiful Ash

IMG_6855

When I awaken, the sky is gray. The moon sits like a great, fat sickle and mocks its ashen bed. But there is a time when the light arrives with amber hue, falls over all the eye can see and colors it the glow of honey. I sit on the couch and wait, glancing through the window periodically, vigilant. I don’t want to miss the magic moments.

This morning, the thermometer reads nine degrees when the sun touches the tip of the maple in the back yard. I have been reading, doing my Bible study like a good girl when luminance whispers outside. I grab the camera and slip on my clogs—the ones my good friend called my “clown-training shoes.” One insole is missing because Bonnie has taken a shine to dissecting all our shoes. She watches me through the window.

IMG_6848

I walk amidst luster, grass crunching under my feet. The squirrel baffle on my feeder sports a sheen of glitter; it catches the sun and tosses her back to me in splintered light. The sky suddenly gives up her gray, makes room for the deepening blue. And I am smitten by the naked branches silhouetted against such a lovely backdrop.

IMG_6851

IMG_6852

IMG_6853

IMG_6854

My Bible sits open on the couch inside, but isn’t this a study of all things holy too?

Last night, we met at the church and prayed around the fireplace in the parlor. My pastor took last year’s palms from Palm Sunday and we watched as they turned to ash over the fire. Next week we will wear ashes, remind each other and ourselves that we are made of dust. As I look up into the blue, I remember that ash is what is left when the fire is put out—it is the remnant that will not burn.

IMG_5479

IMG_5478

 

IMG_5486

I think about the fires we have been through this past year, the choking burn of so much refining. Last night, as we stoked the wood that made the flame that burned the palms, one of the elders noted the difference in color of the ashes. The wood ash was dark and black, but the palms were burning into a soft gray—almost white.

This life is in need of constant refining, transforming through the smoldering fires. But Beauty has her own kind of fire too. And I wonder if we watched her more—would there be less in need of burning away? For nature makes her own chaff and leaves behind the remnants of millions of years of shaping and remaking.

I stand in this light of the ages and let sun-fire make me new this morning. And this is beautiful ash, pure and fine, that floats before me.

IMG_6856

Sunday is Coming

birthday-rain-021

We are getting ready for Lent at our little church, working on the Ash Wednesday service and planning a small worship gathering outside to burn last year’s Palm Sunday palms to use for ashes. The Lenten season is one of my favorites—I come by contrition and repentance naturally, it seems. Usually the dark winter days lead into a time of slowing that readies my heart for reflection. This season, however, is fraught with busy as the dark days slowly yield to light.

We are still working on applications for Teddy’s college plans, filling out page after page of minutiae, dissecting my boy’s life and letting the value others have assigned to it mess with our heads and turn a process that should be joyful—hopeful, igniting dreams—into a dreaded exercise in competition.

The way our world does things sometimes doesn’t make sense. There is no place for a child whose mind is his best asset. We celebrate the athletes and the charismatic types, we applaud the artists, dancers, singers … but the introverted thinker is often overlooked. I tell him he must know who he is, he will find his place, life will welcome his gifts. But he looks at me and points to his forehead, “What I have is all in here,” he says. “It’s not … I don’t know how …” His voice is constricted, as if he doesn’t have enough breath. And I know his heart is breaking. Haven’t I also longed to be seen?

Remember you are dust …

The liturgy for Ash Wednesday rises up to meet me and I am reminded that I follow Jesus into the wilderness and all the way to the cross. For the stone to be rolled away, I must first embrace death; let go of the dirt and debris of this life and let this daily surrendering create resurrection in my heart.

This mumbo-jumbo makes no sense to an eighteen-year-old who stands on the cusp of life. It made no sense to me when I was his age. These things are too intangible, crumble in my fingers like ash.

How do I take my hands off of this?

I must embody. Let worship pry loose my fingers from all that I want, all that I dream. I remember that, yes, it is Friday. But Sunday is coming. Lord, have mercy. Sunday is coming.

Playdates with God: Taize

*Last night our Centering Prayer group hosted a Taize Prayer service. It was so, so lovely. This is what I wrote about the experience last year.

We turn down the lights and light the candles, because God is Light; (and) in him there is no darkness at all. We move the sanctuary around…arranging the chairs in two concentric circles around the table with all those flickering luminaries. And we wait for dusk.

Those who come are instructed to enter in silence…and soon we are one, our hearts twined together by the simple weaving of silence and Word and song. It is my first Taize* prayer service, but I am swept away in our voices lifted together, layer after layer billowing up like smoke. And when we sing O Christe Domine Jesu, I think my heart might break for the beauty.

They leave much the way they came, in silence; in prayer. We move the chairs back and extinguish the candles. The smell of melted wax permeates the air and my heart is molten too.

And when we step out into the night, I can smell the Holy.

*Taize prayer originated in a Protestant monastery in Taize, France during the Second World War.  In the beginning this place was a sanctuary for second World War refugees, particularly Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime. It is a simple service—combining prayer, silence, and liturgy to bring us into the presence of God. The service has elements that date from the third century C.E. and is rooted in the Jewish custom of a ritual blessing of light. Today the Taize community is made up of more than a hundred brothers from all Christian denominations who work in the village outside the monastery and live together in community following the rule of St. Benedict. 

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

the Playdates button:

Enter into Lent with Joy

amaryllis 1 photo miscellaneoushabiscouspainting005_zpse9a2e1ff.jpg

amaryllis 3 photo miscellaneoushabiscouspainting007_zps05a4b710.jpg

amaryllis 10 photo miscellaneoushabiscouspainting014_zps285600dd.jpg

I’m engrossed in trying to paint thanks—filling this need inside of me for color when something behind me falls from the shelf with a clatter. I startle and turn to see my amaryllis on the floor—the bulb my pastor gifted me with for Christmas; the one that whispers red joy to me each time I pass it by, the one whose full blooming glory I’ve been waiting for. Just this morning I noticed that the palms of all four flowers were open wide—finally—and it made me so happy and I thought, “My, that thing is tall. I will need to stake it soon.”
Too late now.
There is peat moss all over the floor and when I gently lift the hollow stems I see that one of the blooms has snapped off clean. The bulb has pulled up out of the dirt and I pile the loose soil back around its base and lean its now lopsided frame against the shelf. I have no idea if it will survive.
It seems the last tiny straw in a series of backbreaking bales and I sit in the floor and pluck at peat moss that has settled in the cracks of the wooden floor. Life has been such a struggle lately and can’t I just have this one moment of joy—dipping my fingers in the paints and letting my mind see what I want them to become?

leaf painting 1 photo miscellaneoushabiscouspainting030_zps8db600f9.jpg

leaf painting 3 photo miscellaneoushabiscouspainting032_zpsc20c87dc.jpg

It’s hard work to grab for this joy when the studio is the dining room table and dipping in means a constant rearranging of the necessary things. I have to fight for joy—have to want it enough to do the hard work of stepping out of the norm. And it ishard work—isn’t it easier to step around my box of watercolors every day, to think one day I’ll have time for these things?
But this afternoon I choose joy and I am smack dab in the middle of it when that mean old devil has to make a mess of everything. Dabbing at loose dirt with a damp paper towel, I remember what that famous demon Screwtapesaid to his nephew Wormwood. “The safest path to hell is the gradual one,” he said, as he instructed the novice in a demon’s best strategy: to befuddle, confuse, and eventually corrupt. They say the devil is in the details, and it has been all these little things lately that seem to torment.
I feel befuddled and confused. Lord, have mercy.
I sit in the floor and hold the gracefully turned funnel of an amaryllis bloom in my hand. The red of its petals is soft like velvet and there is a small tip of white on the point of each. Yellow flecks of pollen are scattered along the red and I lift it gently to my nose. The scent is faint but sweet and it stirs an ache inside of me.
This week marks the start of the Lenten season and I feel the bright sadness. All these little deaths are reminding me…reminding me of how waiting can prepare the heart. Tomorrow, we will receive the ashes and remember how we died with Christ—how we must die a little every day.                                  
I rub my finger across undulations of softly rippled petals and remember what Jesus said.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Isn’t this our story? Isn’t where the Lenten journey must take us?
We are a resurrection people.
This is the joy we hold onto in the journey to the cross. This is the joy we fight for.
I water the amaryllis and stake her tall scape. Then I go back to the paints.

 photo amaryllisjoywords_zps03bc7913.jpg

Playdates with God: Taize Prayer

We turn down the lights and light the candles, because God is Light; (and) in him there is no darkness at all. We move the sanctuary around…arranging the chairs in two concentric circles around the table with all those flickering luminaries. And we wait for dusk.
Those who come are instructed to enter in silence…and soon we are one, our hearts twined together by the simple weaving of silence and Word and song. It is my first Taize* prayer service, but I am swept away in our voices lifted together, layer after layer billowing up like smoke. And when we sing O Christe Domine Jesu, I think my heart might break for the beauty.
They leave much the way they came, in silence; in prayer. We move the chairs back and extinguish the candles. The smell of melted wax permeates the air and my heart is molten too.
And when we step out into the night, I can smell the Holy.
*Taize prayer originated in a Protestant monastery in Taize, France during the Second World War.  In the beginning this place was a sanctuary for second World War refugees, particularly Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime. It is a simple service—combining prayer, silence, and liturgy to bring us into the presence of God. The service has elements that date from the third century C.E. and is rooted in the Jewish custom of a ritual blessing of light. Today the Taize community is made up of more than a hundred brothers from all Christian denominations who work in the village outside the monastery and live together in community following the rule of St. Benedict. 

**So honored that a wee piece of my poetry journey story is featured today over at Tweetspeak poetry. Won’t you hop on over and share your thoughts?

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

the Playdates button:

 

Sharing with L.L. Barkat today also: 

On In Around button