Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We are a forest kingdom

(title credit to Scott Erickson)
In an effort to write new content here on a regular basis and save some writing time for other publications, I'm attempting a weekly "stream of consciousness" post.  (after the art) 
This week I've contributed an essay to the Backward Movement issue of  catapult* magazine: 16 thoughts for 16 stanzas: Holding up Wendell Berry's mad farmer manifesto to the paradigm of progress.  It's a great issue and I'm glad to be a part of it.
We are a forest kingdom
Scott Erickson

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. We used to sing this truth in a camp song with silly hand motions -- the refrain being "His banner over me is love".  Such a beautiful truth in such a silly song.  In that context we should have changed the lyric "His banner over US is love".  

There is a time and place to relish our personal, particular rescue from death to life.  The moment we really got it:  Jesus loves me.  There are times and events that are so intimate, where we know the whisper of God in only our own ear, the song of Christ over only our own suffering bodies.  Moments too precious to even speak about.

But I don't think John 15 speaks to that reality, rather Jesus as the vine and WE are the intertwined, interconnected, twisting, turning, fruit-bearing branches.  We exist as a whole.  When we are healthy we give health to the whole plant.  When we are sick we threaten all with disease. 
Catherine of Siena wrote her masterpiece The Dialogue in the fourteenth century in response to a profound mystical conversation she experienced with God.  In one segment God speaks to her through the image of the vineyard we find throughout the New Testament (and this week in John 15):
"You are the workers I have hired for the vineyard of holy Church. When I gave you the light of holy baptism I sent you by my grace to work in the universal body of Christianity... 
Each of you has your own vineyard, your soul, in which you free will is the appointed worker during this life... 
Indeed I am the gardener, for all that exists comes from me. With power and strength beyond imagining I govern the whole world: Not a thing is made or kept in order without me. I am the gardener, then, who planted the vine of my only-begotten Son in the earth of your humanity so that you, the branches, could be joined to the vine and bear fruit. ... 
You, then, are my workers. You have come from me, the supreme eternal gardener, and I have engrafted you onto the vine by making myself one with you. 
Keep in mind that each of you have your own vineyard. But every one is joined to your neighbors' vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors. 
All of you together make up one common vineyard, the whole Christian assembly, and you are all united in the vineyard of the mystic body of holy Church from which you draw your life. In this vineyard is planted the vine, which is my only-begotten Son, into whom you  must be engrafted."
His banner over us is love.

In truth, then, when I practice the presence of Christ in quiet, hope-filled abiding I gather nourishment for all of us.  When I submit my wayward, idol-worshipping parts to the pruning Hand of God,  I repent for all of us.  

Scott Erickson's painting We Are a Forest Kingdom calls me back -- often -- to this truth.  No branch exists on its own strength.  No true vine would be satisfied sustaining only one branch.  We exist in the reality of Christ's Church from all time and places.  Christ lived on this earth to do the will of His Father and ever since then is seated at God's right hand praying for us.  

When we trust the good care of a good Father and the good life of His Son Jesus and the good love poured out in us by his Spirit, we can exist -- flourish even -- as one part of a common vineyard.  Twisting and turning our lives together to bear fruit for our sure source of life, the only-begotten Son of the Father.

Keeping the tangle of our interconnectedness in mind, another image has captured my imagination:

 May we, the forest kingdom of Jesus, hold on dearly to the true Vine and lose sight of all our imaginary dividing lines.  May we provoke flourishing in every nook and cranny of this dried-up earth.  May we never forget His banner over us is love.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Fifth week of Eastertide with Van Gogh, Gungor, Jenny & Tyler, Page CXVI and the Gospel of John

Meditating on Jesus as the vine and us as the branches this week.  
Abiding in His love, keeping His commandments, our joy is full.

Branches of an Almond Tree in Blossom
Van Gogh

John 15:1-11

English Standard Version (ESV)

I Am the True Vine

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Three songs for three prayers of the day:

Morning prayer: Abide by Jenny & Tyler (lyrics here)

Mid-day prayer: Beautiful Things by Gungor (lyrics here)

Vespers prayer:  Abide With Me by Henry F. Lyte, re-tuned by Page CXVI (lyrics here)

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Friday, April 26, 2013

your photo stories to Practice Resurrection (week 3)

I'd love to include your photo story next week, 
scroll to the bottom of this post to see how you can play along!

"... we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children's games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind.  this is our greatest festival....This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.
...if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. ...The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving."
Want to join me, to practice resurrection for Eastertide? Take something up and share it with us.  Maybe a six week dance class?  We want you to show us a picture.  Planting spring flowers (maybe a new variety this year)?  Show us!  Taking a new route to work (maybe taking more time than necessary in honor of the mad farmer)?  Share it!

april 26

My friend Kevin and I are just two burger enthusiasts on mission to find the best burger out there. We decided creating Burger Diaries would be a good way to share our experiences. (Kate Allen, Nashville, Burger Diaries blog)


A weekend road trip to Philly with sisters; some who have always been a part of my life and a couple newly acquired (there will officially be two new Day girls after this summer)(Suzanne Day, Rochester, NY)


It was the first time I ever laughed while cleaning up such a mess! We said "now there is nothing we haven't done!"  (Todd Hill and various staff at Calvary Christian Academy, Philadelphia)


In a dorm full of broke college kids, I have become a pseudo-hairdresser. I started off a little shaky, but am becoming more confident in experimenting with different styles. (Rebekah Cummins, Denton)


See those hands-the first time they touched a keyboard it was a "manual" typewriter, and my fingers got all black when I had to change the ribbon.  I am now the proud owner of a Mac! Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks!  (Nancy G. Hill, Johnson City, NY)


Least Likely Beauty: A new endeavor I am on to capture the beauty I see everywhere, even in the least likely places (or people.) This old mill yard yielded amazing color and structure. Thanks God. (Robin Lake, New Hampshire) 


This week I'm featuring a photo story sent in by someone (whom I happen to know to be quite fabulous, but) wishing to remain anonymous.  Taking up this project -- writing and leaving letters to strangers -- is a beautiful example of practicing resurrection, subverting the status quo of ironic, image-driven, technology-mediated communication.  

I asked our feature contributor to share any resources that inspired him/her to this project:

She's Changing the World One Letter At a Time 

The World Needs More Love Letters

Did you know that April is National Letter Writing Month?  If you'd like more inspiration, consider following the collaboration my mom and sister have dreamed up over at Kaley's blog.  With free printables, organizing tips and giveaways they're trying to inspire us all to send handwritten love to others this month:

National Letter Writing Month Challenge at Cha-Ching on a Shoestring


In the last few months I began leaving short, hand-written notes around my city, trusting that God would put them in the right hands, and the recipient would know that they are loved. (contributor's name withheld by request)


Three easy steps to play along our Practice Resurrection photo story series:
1. Take up something new. (one day or fifty days doesn't matter, just one thing that's new or, maybe just unique with this season)
2. Take a picture and write a description in 36 words or less.
3. Share the photo and the 36 word or less caption with me via email or facebook message by Thursday morning each week of the series. 

Who wants to join us?

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Take Up Something New: move across the country or the world (W. David O. Taylor)

Sometimes, like our Father Abraham, we are called to pick up our stuff and go Somewhere Else.  If you've visited me for any length of time on the blog, you know that just over a year-and-a-half ago our family followed that sort of call from upstate New York (where we'd lived our whole lives, for many generations) to Austin, Texas.  During these years we've lived off notes, prayers, encouragement from friends as daily bread -- all of it sustaining, fresh, necessary.  I received permission from one of our friends to reproduce an especially helpful bit of advice that, I believe, offers universal support to anyone who's being Sent Out from home.  I kept the letter in its original context -- counting on you to enjoy reading other people's letters as much as I do.
Thank you -- again and again -- David Taylor for your generous and skilled counsel.  (If you haven't met David, visit him at Diary of an Arts Pastor or read his book For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts). 

A few ideas that promote emotional, relational and spiritual health when you find yourself moving your family across the country (or the world)

from W. David O. Taylor as told to the Murphy family

July 28, 2011

Good wonderful people of upstate New York: Whaddup.

I've been meaning to write you for a while. I've crafted a note in my head that comes close to resembling a Pauline epistle--eloquent, deeply spiritual, multilingual and long as a Corinthian column. I've decided to abandon my epistle and write you a simpler note that will actually get delivered.

In addition to Phaedra's wonderful list of recommended hot spots in Austin, I wanted to share a few thoughts about your move. I'm sure you're getting excellent advice from family and friends in NY, and I imagine that folks in Austin will walk with you through the good days and hard days. I can't speak as a sociologist or a psychologist. All I can offer is a bit of perspective from my own experience. 

At 10 I moved to northshore Chicago for one year, then returned to Guatemala. At 13 I moved from Guatemala back to northshore Chicago. At 14 I moved down to a little town in Arkansas where I spent my high school years. At 18 I moved to Chicago proper. At 19 I moved down to Austin in order to study at University of Texas. At 23 I moved to Vancouver, BC, where I stayed for five years. Two years ago at 37 I moved to North Carolina. And in a few years I'll be moving again, Lord only knows where.

This is what I've learned along the way and which I pass along to you for your consideration:

Planning a farewell ritual helps make an emotionally, relationally and spiritually healthy transition

By ritual I mean the following:

1. Walking or driving down a favorite path/road, alone or with others, while you intentionally thank God for the good things that occurred there.
2. Eating a meal at a memorable restaurant or place, again while you consciously thank God.
3. Writing a letter in which you identify all the things that you're grateful for about this place.
4. Taking a moment with a few others in order to pray out loud and release to God this place that you've come to love and that you'll now be leaving.
5. Playing a last game of X or singing a song in Y place or going for a swim at Z location and then shouting "That was good!"
6. Touching, tasting, smelling and listening, in short, using all your senses to acknowledge the things that have been significant about this place.
7. Taking a moment with the family where everybody gets to share with the others things that they will miss most about this place and the people here, so that these things can be relished together, thanking God for them and then releasing them to God mindful that all of it has been a gift--and that all that lies ahead will also be gift.
You get the idea. The point is to make a ritual which you perform both by yourself and with others: a solitary ritual and a shared ritual. When the ritual involves tactile, sensory activity plus a spiritual attentiveness to God, which I recognize both in my own soul and before others who care for me, I have found that it helps healthy closure to take place. It also in that way helps healthy opening to occur. Healthy leavings and healthy comings aren't something that our society is that interested in making possible.

[Healthy leavings and comings] can become the grace of God to us and enable our hearts to grieve what needs grieving and to hope for what lies ahead, knowing that our Good Shepherd walks beside us.

locking up our NY house for the final time

Think of your transition in terms of thirds.
1. There's the first month in which everything is new and the energy levels high.
2. There's the three month mark in which the newness still feels pretty fun, though you also feel strong pangs of longing for home.
3. There's the six month mark when you feel just a little more settled, which reassures you, but you also feel most intensely the loss of people who know you back home.
4. There's the one year (or 4/3) mark where things are no longer freshly new (though you're still discovering new things), and while you miss home, you also have begun to feel more at home with folks in the new place.
5. There's the two year (or 8/3) mark where you miss things back home but you miss them in a healthy way and you've discovered your place in the new home--folks who have become good friends, places that are "yours" now, and rhythms that enable you to come and go through the new place with ease as well as with gratitude.
November 2012, overlooking Austin - 1 year and 3 mos. in

Austin, Texas [fill in the blank with your new city's name] will call out things from you and your identity that would never have been called out in New York [fill in the blank with your former city's name].

While you may not grow to love everything about Austin or about Texas (which you have every right not to have to love), it will also provoke, stimulate and awaken new things--new desires, new abilities, new opportunities, new strengths, new dynamics. And that will be a very exciting thing. You'll become a richer person for it and it will open up a small window into the way God sees you and how he sees the world.

Ok. That's it. I need to get back to the books. I hope it helps somewhat. Discard whatever is unhelpful and know that we're praying for you nearly daily. Please don't hesitate to ask for anything. We're here for you -- and that means your four kids too.

We'll see you at Christmas.


additional comment from Tamara:

Don't try to move from one Place to another Place without seeking -- and finding -- a whole Tribe of friends who will tell you words like this.


Do you have a story you'd like to share that would fit our Practice Resurrection quest to take up something new during Eastertide?  Write me a note on the facebook page for This Sacramental Life. (or email me).  
Also, each week I'm collecting your photos of practicing resurrection, taking up something new to celebrate our risen Christ who makes all things new.  Share your photo with a caption in 36 words or less at the facebook page for This Sacramental Life.  (See our first week here.)

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fourth week of Eastertide: practicing resurrection with Jean Charlot, Rain for Roots, and the Gospel of John

Meditating on this passage this week.
The Shepherd who leads us, guides us, corrects us, cares for us, protects us, calls us, finds us, feeds us, loves us.
Jean Charlot

From Picture Book II (Zeitlin & Veer Burg, Los Angeles: 1973)

John 10:22-30
English Standard Version (ESV)
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple,in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

Song of Response: (for all ages)

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Take Up Something New: the secret to braiding bread (a guest tutorial from Leila at Like Mother, Like Daughter)

I've followed Leila and her mother and daughters at Like Mother, Like Daughter for several years.  I've never read a post I didn't like.  Maybe because I'm the oldest daughter of six and am pretty fond of my own mother and grandmothers.  If you haven't met them, please head over and let them know you've stopped by their site.  Leila generously offered her tutorial for braiding bread for our Take Up Something New series.  You'll all know resurrection is indeed real if my own attempt at braiding bread works.  
Here's to trying something new this lovely weekend!


from Leila at Like Mother, Like Daughter

Do you ever make a loaf of bread and feel like the texture just isn't what you would like it to be?

Somewhere in the middle of the loaf (which is where your best sandwich slices would come from if things worked out properly) it's a little too crumbly or lacking in heft to stand up to slicing and spreading...whereas at the ends it's a little too low to make a good-sized sandwich at all?

Long ago I realized that I like my bread braided.

So usually that's how I make each loaf, whether free-formed on a baking sheet or in a loaf pan.

But at first, when I followed the directions I found in cookbooks, I usually ended up with something that was lopsided -- too narrow at one end! Or too tightly braided on one end and too loose on the other!

So here is a little tutorial on how to achieve bread that has good texture and is evenly distributed.

You can use your favorite recipe. The ones that have some fat and eggs, like, obviously, challah, work especially well. But any dough that isn't super sticky will be fabulous. If you have been brewing beer recently, try my spent grain bread...

Let it rise at least once.

1. For each loaf's worth of dough, use your bench scraper to cut three strands of more or less equal size.

{Now listen. One of the most important things you can learn about improving your bread is to handle the dough carefully and gently. Kneading is an idea that has been...overworked!

If you let your dough rise slowly and don't treat it roughly, you will eliminate both an unpleasant yeasty aroma and a dense structure. We will talk about that more another time... but for now, just roll these ropes with the minimum force and extra flour necessary, trying to keep the integrity of those long strands of gluten that have been developing.

Hence, imperfectly formed strands are the lesser of two evils, the greater being overworked dough.}

2. Secret Alert!

Begin your braiding in the middle!

Don't do what you do with your daughter's hair: don't sort of pull and twist as you go, which is exactly what you would do if you started at one end. (It doesn't hurt to practice on her, though! You moms of boys need to borrow a neice.)

Instead, sort of flop the lightly floured strands on each other in braided position. (Flouring each strand is better than working a lot of flour into the strand to get it to cooperate.) Continue doing that flopping until you reach the end of that side.

3. Now start on the other end.

You kind of have to reverse your flopping direction, which means going under with that top rope in a counter-intuitive way.

It will be fatter in the middle. That's fine. It just can't be fatter at one end ;)

You can do it, it just takes a minute to wrap your mind around what you need to do. 

When you get to the end, seal the ropes together and tuck under, giving a last little braid just like you do to hair to keep the ends in a bun.

As you seal and tuck, plump those ends together so that they increase in height to match the middle, which has a bigger mass of dough.

This loaf below was perfect, even though the top puffed out a bit. The two ends were even and the texture was sturdy yet tender. The picture, however, was not in focus, sorry!


Do you have a story you'd like to share that would fit our Practice Resurrection quest to take up something new during Eastertide?  Write me a note on the facebook page for This Sacramental Life. (or email me).  
Also, each week during Eastertide I'm collecting your photos of practicing resurrection, taking up something new to celebrate our risen Christ who makes all things new.  Share your photo with a caption in 36 words or less at the facebook page for This Sacramental Life.  (See our first week here.)

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