Creating Space for Play and Curiosity

Now that it’s summer, the girls and I are in the car a lot together. I drive a Honda Civic, meaning that we’re in close proximity for all music choices and conversation. Recently, I’ve been reminded of what a linguistically fun season we’re in.

Elle loves separating words by syllable and then finding other words that rhyme with those syllables. Most of her rhymes are nonsense words but I love listening to how she dissects and reassembles language. I had forgotten how fun it was to hear kids puzzle out words and language.

Bea adds to our conversation by asking about the etymology of words and phrases we’re using. We wonder why we used certain words in certain ways and why some letters are pronounced differently, depending on the word’s origin. We talk about phrases and where they come from and how they’ve changed.

These conversations aren’t our norm but about once a week or so, we’ll dive into language and it’s been such a good reminder for me about the shifting nature of our communication.

This makes me especially happy because I love thinking and learning about the origins of language. Perhaps that’s why my girls love picking apart words – I happily jump into the conversation, just as curious as they are. I find the history of language fascinating and love that we’re able to reframe words and phrases every few decades or centuries.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney. She takes stories of women from the Old Testament and digs into the words and language surrounding them. Using what she calls her “sanctified imagination,” she adds to the story, creating robust narratives around forgotten and abused women. She breaks down the ancient Hebrew words and phrases and helps the reader understand the context and nuance.

Womanist Midrash is the most recent part of my journey in understanding the fluidity of language and belief. If our modern English language can ebb and change as quickly as it does, it’s no wonder there’s such mystery surrounding the language of the Bible. Yes, scholars study and understand the ancient text in its rightful context but for this lay-reader, I’m amazed at all I don’t know about what the Bible is saying, simply through the language and translations given.

A friend and I were recently talking about how we reconcile faith and politics and law. We were talking about specific current events but I think our conversation could be expanded to any sort of Biblical grappling. How do we understand what the Bible was actually saying, especially when we don’t know the language and context fully?

Our conversation made me think of the car rides with my girls, of breaking apart words and thinking about each part, in context and out of context. It made me think about the ways in which rhyming nonsense words helps build a linguistic foundation of curiosity and play which will eventually lead to fluent literacy. For now, my girls love having fun with language and giving them space to figure it out helps me remember the process rather than the outcome.

I think that’s what I’m learning about faith, too. It’s about dissecting and puzzling. Sometimes it’s about making up nonsense rhymes as I work through certain parts. Sometimes it’s turning to the experts and diving into what we do actually know about the language and culture. Either way, I’m leaning into the process. I don’t know where my outcomes will be in ten or fifty years – or maybe I’ll never know.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s enough ambiguity and space to allow for the play and curiosity. Maybe that’s what faith is all about – not necessarily finding the answers but enjoying the process of puzzling.

How do you infuse curiosity and play into your faith?

How to Be Idle and Blessed

I remember the first time I heard the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” After contemplating the world of a grasshopper on a summer day, Oliver asks her reader if they know how to really pay attention, how to be still and quiet. The poem ends with an oft-quoted question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

A bunch of green asparagus spears in a brown wooden bowl on a butcher block table.
Photo by Stephanie Studer on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot these days, as we emerge from winter and tax season, as leaves start to spring onto branches and we start thinking about school ending and summer beginning.

When I first heart this question, I felt an urge to think about grand goals, wild dreams, and hopes beyond my imagination. I took it seriously, this call to live into my one and only precious life. I don’t want to waste a thing. What will I do with all these unexpected opportunities, with all that I’ve learned, with all that I hope to accomplish?

Suddenly this question turned into a to-do list. First, I’ll read these books. Next, I’ll take this class. Then, I’ll reflect about those experiences as I make a plan of action to implement my newfound knowledge. Last, I’ll be an expert in this new field, finding opportunities to share and participate in new conversations.

I don’t think those hopes and goals are unrealistic or out of the realm of possibility. But I do think I’ve completely missed the point of Mary Oliver’s question if that is my takeaway.

In the middle of the poem, before this famous question, Oliver notes,

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

As we enter this season of spring cleaning, family recalibration, and these last weeks of the school year, I can let my list for what a One Wild and Precious Life looks like completely overwhelm the call to be idle and blessed.

I’m learning to balance this blessed observation and living in the present with the need to sit down and do the work. Sometimes the work is that playtime idleness my girls crave. Sometimes it’s the mundane chores of cleaning and cooking. And sometimes it’s the actual work of sitting and writing or crafting ideas to the page. Nothing is as set and clear as I’d like it to be.

I’m remembering this poem in this season of life, though. That my call is to deep observation. That learning takes years and often the outcomes aren’t what I was expecting.

This season of quiet and growth has lasted longer than I expected. I know that planting seeds and putting down roots can take years. I love what my friend Tina says about growing in the longterm. After she planted asparagus, which takes three years to produce, she reflected,

 It takes commitment to plant asparagus, and perseverance. More than that, it takes vision. To plant something right now that won’t bear fruit for years to come requires vision. It requires we trust that the good life is not always the immediate life. The beautiful life is not the quick life. Instead, it is the cultivated, grounded life. It is the life that believes in waiting for the fruit, in holding out hope that something good will come, and it is the belief that trusts in the work we cannot see with our eyes.

Tina Osterhouse, On What’s Saving My Life Right Now

So, to mix metaphors and ideas, I’m planting asparagus and fruit trees, I’m taking time to observe the grasshopper and small details, I’m leaning into this space of the quiet and quotidian.

I’m remembering to hold myself to a different standard, one that is more about planting and less about harvest. I’m doing the work, in hopes of a fruitful result but I won’t know for sure until late summer. And that’s the beauty of life and learning and gardening, isn’t it?

What are you planting this spring? Do you like growing quick lettuces, late season tomatoes, or longterm asparagus? How do you balance that waiting?

The Importance of Reading Genesis

Last Friday, after we took Bea out for her celebratory last day of school lunch, I packed five books, two journals, two packs of pens, my computer, and my sneakers and drove up to the Abbey of St. Walberga close to the Wyoming border.

IMG_9055I was two hours into the drive when I realized I had forgotten my Bible. I had just gotten a new version and had been eagerly awaiting this weekend to start reading it. Somehow, it was left on the kitchen counter. Of all the retreats to forget a Bible on, this isn’t too terrible, as nearly every room in the Abbey has a copy.

After Vespers at dinner my first night, I was talking with a friend who also happened to be there for the weekend. (What are the chances?) My friend reminded me that the Desert Fathers likened nature to reading the Bible and said, Just go out and spend time in Genesis!

I had some loose goals and ideas for how I wanted to spend those 48 hours alone. I read a lot, attended the Offices, and napped. But I also remembered to “read Genesis.” My friend, who had lived at the Abbey for a few years as caretaker, took me to some of her favorite spots.

Looking at the trees growing out of rocks, listening to the streams and birds, and breathing in the wildflowers reminded me of what uncultivated earth is like. We talked about how being out in the wild landscape is like a glimpse of the New Earth, though such a pale shade of comparison.

I love the idea of catching glimpses of the Earth to come. Of getting out of my norms and seeing trees and grasses in new context. Even though we have wildflowers growing in our garden, actual wildflowers are so very different.

In the afternoon, I walked to the front of the property to hike the Stations of the Cross. The route winds up a hill and, at the top, a view of the Abbey, nestled in a valley of rock formations with the snow-covered Rocky Mountains in the distance stood below me. I saw the cultivated farmland of the Abbey but it seemed so small and orderly compared to the landscape surrounding it.

Looking down on this scene, I was reminded of my own orderly life. I work so hard to cultivate it and make it fruitful and I often see good results from the rhythms we have as a family. But I need to remember to get out of my order and go “read Genesis” in the wilderness.

I had been in a bit of a creative slump when I arrived and looked forward to resting. I brought my computer, just in case, but was hesitant to open it. Walking in nature, getting out of my routines, not talking for most of the day sparked that ember of creativity. I started seeing my adventures through the lens of storytelling and would come back to my room ready to write and connect what I had been seeing and learning.

Writers—and creatives in general—are often told to just “do the work” of creativity. That if you show up, the muse will meet you. I agree that the only way creativity happens is if I’m willing to show up and do the work.

But I’m also reminded that I need to rest. At this stage in parenting, rest is hard to find at our house. The girls are up and ready to go, regardless of the day of the week. We cook and eat and tidy and do bedtime every day without much variation. I needed to pause and physically get out of my routine.

I loved doing this at the Abbey where the balance of showing up to pray the Offices and go out for unstructured rambles could live hand-in-hand. (For me, not the nuns…) I wish there was a way to practically implement this idea into our daily routines.

Maybe there is. But if it doesn’t make sense, I’m also realizing that this is ok. Sometimes the only way to rest is to leave. The only way to “read Genesis” is to get out into new territory.

How do you break out of your norms? What ways do you “read Genesis” to experience the Bible in fresh ways? Does nature connect you with faith?

Delighting in New Creation

Last weekend was our first normal post-tax season weekend. We went out for brunch with my parents on Saturday morning, headed to Home Depot for gardening supplies, and spend Saturday and Sunday outside digging in the dirt.

garden-1176406_1920Well, Frank spend Saturday and Sunday digging in the dirt. The girls “helped” and played with neighbors. I watched them, reconnected with our neighbors after wintertime, and squeezed in bits of writing and editing as I could.

I love watching Frank prepare our garden each year. After long hours indoors, the weather is cooperative and his schedule is free to be outdoors. Every year he plans our vegetable gardens, moves the pots and redistributes the soil. We decide how many tomato plants we really need and if this is the year cucumbers will grow. After watching our peach tree succumb to frostbite our first year, we’ve tended it and have spotted the first blossoms. I play more of a consulting role – affirming that we’ll probably use five different types of tomatoes; wondering if we really need to try peppers again.

I like gardening but I like reading a book in the hammock better. Frank comes alive in the garden. Watching him this weekend gave me a glimpse into our retirement years: Me with a lemonade by my side watching Frank putter around. I think he’ll be one of those old men who has a magnificent garden, living up to his patron saint’s attributes.

This weekend reminded me of N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised By Hope. When talking about building God’s new kingdom he says,

“You are – strange though it amy seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation… every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings nad for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures… all this will find its way throug the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make” (pg 208).

Wright is saying that when we create and grow and use our passions and gifts, we are bringing about a new heaven here on earth. When I think about my own passions, I sometimes wonder how lounging in a hammock will bring about a shift in our broken world. And then I see Frank happily turning the earth, bringing new life to our garden, teaching the girls about soil and seeds, and I see a glimpse of this new heaven here on earth. I can completely imagine Frank for all eternity teaching others about the magic of our earth and delighting in what life springs from a mix of compost, soil, and water.

Remember, we are still in Easter celebrations. Jesus has risen from the dead but he has not yet ascended into heaven. We are still in the midst of rejoicing and awe. As we continue to emerge from winter and bask in the spring sunshine, I hope to keep this at the forefront – that what we are planting and creating now is a small glimpse at what will be planted and created when our earth is restored.

I am remembering to celebrate and hold this awe of Easter present as we participate in this new creation.

Are you still celebrating Easter? When is the last time you caught a glimpse of God’s redemptive creation?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Life is a Narrative Story, Not a Report

One of the best outcomes of this practice of blogging has been learning the art of storytelling. My goal with each essay is to take a life experience and weave a greater thought that can be applied beyond my story at this moment. It’s been a good practice as I reflect on this phase of parenting. Some days are hard. What’s a bigger lesson I can learn from it?

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Image source: Falco on Pixabay

Part of embracing storytelling is letting go of journalism. I have no recording devices in our house to go back and make sure our conversations are accurately fact-checked. Sometimes I embellish things to make a point. It’s never as deep or complex as real life. In fact, it’s always funny talking with real-life friends about blog posts because they see so much more than is written. (It’s equally funny talking with people who read the blog but who I don’t see often in person. There are a lot of gaps between the written story and the lived story!)

I’m reading through Exodus right now and reflecting on the ways in which we read this text. Some read it in a journalistic style: Each of the elements of this story actually happened in the timeline stated. We read it literally and draw our conclusions based on that. Others believe it’s complete metaphor, leading us toward a bigger story. None of this happened but it helps give us a history and journey as a culture. Many are in the middle: The exodus probably happened, though probably not exactly the way the text states. It’s storytelling and the narrator will embellish certain aspects to make a greater point.

This is what we do. As Americans, we’ve created a narrative about scrappy underdog Colonists fighting the big business of Great Britain. It’s a cultural narrative that lives to this day. I was talking with a friend who said that even though the Confederacy lost the Civil War, they won the narrative. We still revere antebellum culture, architecture, and memorials in ways that usually doesn’t happen to the losers.

We all do this, whether its written or a story we’ve told again and again over beers with old friends. The more we tell it, the more exaggerated it becomes. The bigger our audience, the more we need to think about how our stories can apply to more people. I write from a perspective of motherhood, but I try not to make my stories about motherhood.

I’ve been thinking about this as we interpret laws in our country that are over two hundred years old. We have created a cultural narrative around them, making them something that they weren’t originally. The problem is that my cultural narrative around a particular phrase in the Constitution is going to be skewed differently than someone’s from a different region or background. We all bring our own lens personally as well as within an overarching societal telling.

I’m wondering how to dig in deeper. When I meet with friends in real life and we talk about our journeys, they get a more dynamic story than the one on this blog. They know more sides, more nuances, more of our journey. How do I apply this to the news and current events? How do I step into the discussion and recognize that I’m reading the news and our laws through my own cultural lens?

I don’t have any answers or books to read. I suppose my next steps are simply being aware that I don’t have the whole story – none of us do. How do we interpret and process with this idea of not knowing? Will that help us break our steeped perspectives toward moving forward?

How do you step back and shift your thinking? What are ways you recognize your cultural lens in order to see things in a new way? Any helpful resources?

41P-7PjUPDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Recommended Resources: Chapter 3: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” from We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Balancing Conservation and Progression

Mom, are giraffes endangered? Bea asked the other morning at breakfast. Is that why they’re in zoos?

IMG-7431As I paused to answer, Bea continued to ask what made animals endangered; how do they end up threatened? We talked about hunting and climate change and how zoos keep a lot of animals safe. But we talked about how zoos are feeble, at best, at replicating a native environment. I asked her if she’d rather live in the wild or at a zoo.

I’d rather live in a zoo! You have people to feed you and play structures.

We moved on to other topics but I started thinking about her response. After reading Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman a few years ago, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with our zoo membership. Yes, there’s some great research and preservation happening in zoos. But there are a lot of depressed animals. What is the cost of preservation?

When I visited Estonia in high school, we went to a zoo that was all concrete cages. The animals may have had a branch to climb but ultimately, the tiger, the elephant, and the sloth all had about the same square footage. It was pretty depressing. I’m sure that zoo has changed in the decades since I’ve visited, just as our city’s zoo has expanded and created more thoughtful spaces for the animals. Conservation is still at the heart of the zoo model but best practices have changed and created a more authentic environment for the animals.

The question of responsible conservation isn’t just a question for zoos and animals. In the art world, there are divided camps over the philosophy of preservation. How much do we meddle? When do we recognize that an artist’s experimentation with paint isn’t sustainable? Does a painting need to last longer than 500 years in pristine condition?

One of the most famous debates in the art world is the conservation of DaVinci’s The Last Supper. The past 500 years have been spent preserving a painting that began disintegrating 20 years after its installation. Yes, it’s an incredibly important piece of Renaissance art. But at what cost do we continue to preserve something that was an experiment in itself?

Lent starts today and this year, I’m not giving up anything big or adding any grand project to my days. It’s been a season of lots of change for our family in many ways but mostly because it’s our first tax season as business owners. In a hectic time of year, we have new layers of questions and unknowns to contend with.

So, I’m working my way through a traditional Bible study. I’ll be reading the plan each day, journaling, answering questions and reflections. I purposefully chose a plan from a more conservative point of view. I’ve been reading a lot of books that have stretched my thinking and am so glad for them but I’m recognizing the need to balance progression with conservation. What are interpretations that have pushed us in good was and what are interpretations that are solid foundations?

One of my hopes for this Bible study is to dig into my own views of Biblical conservation. What is worth preserving? What was truly an example of cultural context? What is the overarching storyline and takeaway? What I’ve learned about conservation is the imperfections of it. We conserve art and animals the best we can with the best resources we have. But when we learn new things and better ways, experts reevaluate those practices and implement new ones.

I’ll be spending Lent digging into the Bible, examining my conservative roots, and really trying to understand which pieces are worth conserving and which pieces of the story could be brought to light as we learn more about the history and storytelling of this era. I’m no theologian so, at the end of these forty days, there will be no radical reformation. But I’m hoping that there will be a deeper thoughtfulness to the story and the overarching plotline God is building.

How do you conserve what’s important while learning new things? What are your thoughts on preserving artwork?

Life is Mostly Boring

When I lived in Paris, none of my apartments had washing machines. So, part of my weekly routine was packing up my clothes and the lightest of my homework books and walking to the nearest laundry to spend hours watching my clothes churn. In my last apartment, I would walk through the winding streets of Montmartre, quintessential Paris, to get to the laverie. Even though the setting was romantic, the activity was pretty boring. Put in a few loads, wait, read, switch them, wait, read, pack everything up, walk home.

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Image: RyanMcGuire via Pixabay

One of my biggest pet peeves about staying home with the girls is when people tell me that they couldn’t do this – it would be too boring. I’m never really sure how to respond to this because, honestly, staying home with young kids is often boring. We do fun things but most of our day is structured. Some days, we stay home and clean the house and do laundry. Some days are filled with adventures. But even at the museum or park, unless I’m with another mom to chat with, I sit on a bench with my book, watching my kids play. Not the most exciting life.

My guess is that if we were able to track the number of minutes per day we spent on boring activities, most of our days would be pretty boring. Commuting to work, answering emails, grocery shopping. No matter where you live or how exotic the setting, life is made up of these boring details.

In her book, The Quotidian Mysteries, Kathleen Norris talks about the liturgy of the ordinary moments. She connects the monastic rhythms of prayer and repetition to our own daily chores of dishes and laundry and raising kids, challenging us to find God in those repetitive moments. She says,

Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance the personal relationships that nourish and sustain us.

This is a reminder to me to find the holy in these everyday moments. I’ve tried to set aside time to pray and it just never seems to work out. Something is always happening when my alarm to stop and pray dings. But when I incorporate prayer into those mundane moments, I’m much more successful. I pray for a mom I know as I wipe the counters. I pray for my girls as I give them a bath. I pray for the world as I stir our dinner. I find that when I pray for the same thing as I do the same task, a habit is formed and my boring days seem holier.

I’m not great at this rhythm. More often than not, I forget to pray altogether. But when I do remember, I realize that God has given me these boring moments for a purpose. If my time was always filled with thinking, enriching, stretching activities, I would have no space for those quiet moments of finding God.

I’m embracing this boring season. Before too long, my days will be filled with other things outside my control and I’ll look back on these long, uneventful days with longing. Not just of this season of motherhood but of this time to find a holy space while doing the mundane.

How do you find holiness in the boring moments? Do you find peace in routine or do you thrive on new and unexpected events?

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Books referenced in this post:

Books Referenced in this post:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.