As I read Nicola Griffith's Hild, among several other books that I'm reading concurrently, I wonder how many other worlds have been waiting for me to inhabit them with my imagination. I invite you to share in a comment below the one book (complete with author's name and any other information you'd like to share) that has most transformed you/your worldview. I'll start the list with a comment of my own.
My daughter danced my parish into Christ's birth last night. That memory will remain with me for the rest of my days. ~~~ As part of my Benedictine prayer practice, I read the lections of the day according to the Book of Common Prayer. A portion of the first letter of John was today's second reading. This line pealed out like holy bells: "[A]s long as we love one another, God remains in us, and God's love comes to its perfection in us." Sounds a little bit like the preaching of the new bishop of Rome, no? Sounds even more like the nudgings of Jesus. Where two are three are gathered in love, there is God. There was God last night. There was God around our Christmas tree this morning. There is God now as we prepare our Christmas feast. There will God be as we lovingly greet familiar friends and strangers throughout Christmastide. May these twelve days to Epiphany be filled with blessings and your own ongoing, Spirit-ed expressions of sacred love.
Happiest of Trinity Sundays to each of you--may you be richly blessed in the holy, pervasive presence of the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy of Holies. Today Christians celebrate the intrinsically relational character of G-d. I can't help but think of the relationality between myself, my first daughter, and my daughter still in the womb. We are connected and separate, three and one all at once.
Today I'm working on a trinity-themed piece for Life. Love. Liturgy. I look forward to finishing this piece and those that remain to be written. We'll see which reaches its fulfillment first: my book, or my pregnancy!
Once I finish the Life. Love. Liturgy. collection, I will move on to work on two things: 1) revamping and revisioning my primary blogs (this one and that one), and 2) giving shape to my first novel.
If there is anything in particular you would like to see from me in the meantime--any topic you would like me to discuss here or on my other blog, any question you would like me to explore over a series of blog posts or perhaps in an article, please let me know.
In the meantime, you can now find me on Twitter (@lifeloveliturgy!), so feel free to visit me there as well. I'm delighted and grateful that you're joining me as I continue journeying into my vocation of prophetic word-weaving. Thank you.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year. That means next Sunday begins the new liturgical year, and the liturgical year always begins with the season of Advent.
Four Sundays in Advent precede Christmas, also known as the Nativity (or birth) of the Lord Jesus. The most precious custom for marking the four Sundays of Advent is to light the candles of an Advent wreath at one's home or church.
If you'd like to make an Advent wreath, here's a simple set of directions to help you along:
What you'll need:
Evergreen branches - You can cut these from an evergreen in your yard (the fresher, the better), purchase them from your local florist, or request them from your local Christmas tree seller.
Green floral wire (at least 24 gauge)
Floral or pruning shears (for cutting the floral wire)
One or two ribbons - The key is to find ribbons that will complement one another. You might get one of medium width and one of large width, one that's solid and one that's sheer, one that's satin and one that sparkles, etc. The colors are your choice. One custom is to mark three of the four "corners" of the wreath with blue or lavender while marking the fourth "corner" with pink, in order to mark the liturgical colors of each Sunday of Advent. This is not necessary, however; reds, greens, yellow, and whites are also good choices.
Berries - Small red berries are a lovely touch on a wreath of any kind, but there may be something akin to berries that would suit your wreath as well. Your florist would be able to help you. (Just be sure, if you have small children or pets who might have access to the wreath, that this addition is not toxic!)
Four tall candles - Many people use tapers (again, it is customary among some Christians to use blue/lavender candles for the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent while using a pink candle for the third Sunday of Advent, since these are the liturgical colors for those Sundays, but white or beeswax candles are fitting as well), while some prefer wider, stand-alone candles. My rule of thumb is this: if you plan to light the candles only on Sundays, tapers will melt at an appropriate rate. If you plan to light them several nights per week or every night per week, a wider candle will be more likely to last you through the season. One of the purposes of an Advent wreath is to mark the time by the melting of wax, so if you can find candles that will last you while still showing that they're diminishing with each progressive week, the experience of Advent will be that much more tangible.
What you do:
First, measure out a length of wire by fashioning it into a circle. Advent wreaths are often 12-15" in diameter or more. Snip the wire with your shears and twist the ends together. This will form your base. Next, begin placing the boughs around the wire--once they're arranged you can secure them by wrapping more green wire in a spiral around the branches and the base. Add your ribbon beginning with the widest, if you have more than one, weaving it loosely in and out of the branches. If you have narrower ribbon, you can weave that alongside the wider ribbon or use small pieces of it to place at each of the "four corners" where the candles will be placed. Add berries in thick clumps in 5-7 places around the wreath and secure them with floral wire to the base. Place candles (in their holders, if needed) in a square formation within the wreath, and voilà! Your Advent wreath is ready.
Each Sunday, you'll light a new candle. On the first Sunday of Advent, you'll light the candle opposite the pink candle (if you chose colored candles), or the candle of your choice (if your candles are one color or four different colors). Once you light it, using a slim taper or a match, let it burn during your Sunday dinner. If you're Christian, you may wish to accompany the lighting by reading the first reading of the day (from the Book of Isaiah): you can find readings for each day at http://www.usccb.org/bible in the upper-right hand corner. Or you may wish to light the candle(s) as you begin or end your day, as a private meditation, as part of your daily Advent prayer, or as part of Liturgy of the Hours. I plan to offer Advent reflections via this blog, so feel free to visit here as you make your way through Advent. You may also enjoy Watch for the Light or Waiting in Joyful Hope.
I've been thick with fever for two full days now. One of the features of this fever? Nightmares.
So far my fevered, broken dreams have been all over the map, both figuratively and literally. Last night I was in Berlin, Germany. The previous night I was hanging out with Unitarian Universalists. The night before that I was I was getting ready to lead a Jewish High Holy Day service. The thing that each dream had in common was an extraordinary degree of self-doubt. I couldn't get past the sense that I was saying something wrong, letting someone down, acting like a fool, or otherwise becoming an example of a failure. I've woken up every few minutes, fighting to persuade myself to get out of these dreams, but my fighting proved futile every time. For the last two mornings I've woken up and waited for darkness to break into morning light so I could justify escaping from my night-time gloom.
Dream experts might tell me that this is my unconscious self breaking free during a time of vulnerability. Frankly, I don't want to hear it. I don't want to be battered by my unconscious mind. I don't want to dwell in all my inadequacy--I do enough of that already.
But perhaps there is some lesson here, some message that needs hearing.
I don't know what the message is, but I do know that these last two nights have left me feeling more vulnerable than I have in a long time. Being sick has left me unable to give as much as I normally do, and I'm feeling it in waking life almost as much as I am at night. It's hard not to have control over what I can do and accomplish in a given day, especially when so many people rely on me.
What can one do, what is one worth, when one suddenly can't give anything of value--when one can't do anything but take?
Ibrahim Farajaje, the Provost at SKSM, had this to say at the closing of his drash (sermon/reflection) for the opening ritual:
So, Come, Come, Lovers of Leaving, Come across the threshold into living in the differences; So, Come, Come: Leave limited consciousness to be plunged into the Ocean of Oneness; So, Come, Come: Leave attachment to limited notions of self; So, Come, Come to become Microcosm and Macrocosm; So, Come, Come: Leave behind notions of 'us' and 'them'; So, Come, Come: Let us build sacred, vibrant, fun, deliciously organic, (g)locally-grown and sustainable communities in the Caravan of LOVE!
And both Ibrahim and Reb Zalman talked about multi-religious identity. Can you just sit with that for a minute?
You mean I don't have to be merely Christian? I can be both Jewish and Christian? I can be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist? Not in the sense taking on any of the exclusivistic aspects of these traditions, but in the sense of authentically embracing and living by their holy texts, images and names for God, and spiritual practices that invite illumination, deepening, and unity/love among all. To be multi-religious (wow!) is to break down my exclusivistic faith constructs so I can reach out fully with deep awareness, embracing and accepting my neighbor as the embodied revelation of the divine. If that isn't holy practice, tell me what is.
You know what? We only get one shot at this set of circumstances we're placed in. Every choice we make has an unknowable (but imaginable) ripple effect.
Ask me my creed:
Will I choose to embrace only Roman Catholic identity any longer? No.
Will I reject Roman Catholic or Christian identity? No.
Will I spend the next years of my life seeking out the best living spiritual teachers there are from each of the world's major religions so I can sit at their feet and learn from them? Yes.
It's a new day, my friends. I shed the shackles with which my long-time faith binds me so I can put on the power to love that my faith has always offered me. And my faith will be broader and richer and more diverse than I ever imagined it could be. Starting today. Well, starting yesterday.
I went up to my Bay Area bestie after the talk was over and gave him a long, tight hug. "Thank you!" he said. He pulled back and looked at me and said, "Wow, that really had an impact on you, didn't it?" I nodded and my eyes got all wet and he said, "You're shaking."
Reb Zalman and Ibrahim Baba and all the people present in that sacred place rattled me, shattered me, made a new way possible for me.
If you want me, I'll be picking my way through the rubble, moving forward in amazing, radiant, warmth-imparting light. <3
I had a particularly fruitful meeting with my spiritual direction mentor, Hana Matt, this evening. When one intentionally cultivates a deep spiritual life, it's important to tend to the desires of one's heart. One of my personal desires is for community--not just church, but intimate gatherings, the sort that Jesus often hosted or attended. I'm thinking less multiplication of loaves and fishes and more dinner with friends.
And that's what I'm aiming for. Well, two things, actually.
First: I would like to invite folks local to the San Francisco Bay Area to join together for prayer and a meal once every other month. Nothing extravagant, but something important and weighty; not merely Christian, but not without eucharistic (i.e. thanksgiving) tones. Intentional, inclusive time spent--for where the many and the diverse are gathered, there is the divine outpouring.
Second: I invite anyone (from anywhere in the world) to gather (also every other month) for a book group. Our readings would include works by anyone from Augustine to Flannery O'Connor to Thomas Merton to Hildegard of Bingen to Henri Nouwen to Julian of Norwich to lesser known, contemporary spiritual fiction writers who grapple with issues of justice, self-deception, and unexpected holiness.
If you're interested, please let me know by commenting below, e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contacting me in some other way between now and September 1, 2012.
A week ago yesterday, I had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of a little girl--not more than five years old--in my church community. At St. Columba, baptisms of children most often take place in the midst of Sunday Mass, a ritual choice that affirms that baptism isn't just an act of/for an individual, but an act of/for a faith community.
The little girl's baptism reminded me of why I opted not to have my daughter baptized as an infant. Instead of being invited to take part in the life of the community by going through baptism, my daughter was invited into the community by entrance into the child catechumenate. My daughter is, at not quite two years old, a catechumen--a journeyer and increasingly critical learner--moving toward acceptance of baptism into Christ.
Why would a parent choose the catechumenate over infant baptism?
Some contemporary Catholic theologians would argue that not to baptize an infant is to fail to put faith in God's ability to grace all humans, regardless of the ability for a person to say yes, I choose this. For me, however, the question isn't about doubting God's grace. In fact, I would argue that God graces all of creation with an abundance beyond human imagining. If that is so, then baptism is not for God's sake, but for the sake of those baptized. If that is the case, then the ability to remember the experience of baptism is of great importance indeed--not to become "more graced" but to be shaped by the richness of memoried identity.
It is simple: almost universally, a baby fails to remember its infancy. A child or adult may remember a life-changing experience her whole life. Our vividest memories are the stuff of our personal stories. To be told who I am is one part of my identity, but I am not merely who I am told that I am; I am also who I choose to be. I am who I actively embody in smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. If I remember the dark, breath-taking plunge into water; if I remember the sweet fragrance and moist touch of oil on my forehead, eyelids, ears, lips, hands, feet, and heart; if I remember my first taste of a morsel of baked bread and the warmth of wine; then I will remember that I have become Christ, from the cleansing, enveloping, womb of water to precious healing oil gently applied to food and drink to sate hunger and thirst.
I remember my baptism in one way--as someone who went through it without memory of it and who experiences it vicariously through the baptisms of others. That has become meaningful ever since I first experienced symbol-rich liturgy eleven years ago; it is also meaningful because I have been privileged to study the many facets liturgy at length as a graduate and doctoral student. I discovered my baptism as a profound event in my life two decades after it occurred.
For my daughter? I want her to know what it means to become Christ as she is becoming Christ. I want her to have her very own memories of being baptized, not just think about what her baptism must have been like as she watches others go through it. I want her to know--without having to jump through mental hoops--what baptism is as it washes over her, and to feel its enormous power as it soaks into her skin.
I can hardly wait to stand by my daughter when/if she chooses to be baptized. You will never have met a prouder mama on that day--ever.
What are your thoughts on baptism?If your child or godchild was baptized as an infant, what are your thoughts/memories on it now? If you were baptized as an infant, how does your baptism resonate or not in your life? If you have memories of your baptism, how do those impact your life?All experiences are welcome here.
As I gear up for the weddings at which I'll be officiating this summer, I'm struck by how very different each couple is in going about the task of wedding preparation. Each couple--and each member of each couple--expresses worry and excitement in her or his own way. And let's face it, wedding preparation is often nerve-wracking, especially in this country.
In preparing for my own wedding (well, both of them--the civil ceremony and the religious convalidation), I had one major thing going for me: the insight, gleaned from extensive liturgical preparation, that after all the preparation is done, the ritual itself can't go "wrong." No matter how the actual event compares to the preparation that came before it, "going as planned" isn't what makes a ritual successful. What makes ritual successful, beautiful, and memorable? The loving participation, intention, and presence of each person involved.
If I could impart a piece of advice for each couple I work with, it would be this: approach your wedding preparation the way you want to approach your wedding day, and approach your wedding day the way you want to approach your marriage. If you use the love you have for your future spouse and your family and friends as the focus of your preparation, your wedding will be perfect--no matter how many details go astray.
The other related piece of advice I'd throw out there for couples, even though decisions like this are already made by the time a couple meets me, is to choose a wedding party based on who will give you unconditional support both 1) throughout the wedding preparation process and 2) on the Big Day.
Obviously unconditional support depends on a couple's willingness to meet their friends and family halfway--if you're in the habit of acting like a meanie or a bonehead, that unconditional support may rightly waver. But I'd suggest--and perhaps this is radical of me--that it's not necessarily the folks who are supposed to be closest to you that will make the best wedding party members. "Supposed to" won't necessarily cut it when it comes to this monumental day in your life. Ask yourselves: who among your family and friends has a history of going the extra mile to help you in both big and small things? Who among your family and friends has a history of treating you like dirt, betraying your trust, acting passive-aggressively, lashing out, or abandoning you in some way?
Folks you can rely on when the rubber meets the road are the ones you should ask to be in the wedding party, even if you don't have as much history with them as you do with others. Why? Because they'll be standing strong and smiling at you--and will really mean their smiles!--when the stresses are highest. They'll remember that the Big Day is ultimately a day to celebrate you and your beloved. And then, rather than harboring regrets or hard feelings toward one or more members of your wedding party after it's all over, you'll be able to thank them again and again for the wonderful memories they helped you create.
If you have any stories of those who are going / who went the extra mile to make your wedding day memories amazing, share them here!
I've been writing about my daughter since she was in the womb; you can find those reflections in my mommy blog. Working on the Life. Love. Liturgy. website has diverted my attention away from the mommy blog, but I realize that the two sites intersect in a number of ways. Feel free to wander over and take a look. For now I'm keeping the two sites separated because what I write on the mommy blog is pretty kid-specific, but I may just cross-link them to one another. Whadya think?
Thanks as always for reading along. The baby says hi from my lap!
It's official. If all goes as planned, I'll be publishing my first book this September.
I can hardly describe how excited I am about this.
I'm looking back on my life--my childhood, when I first put pencil to paper in a journal, my high school years when I was so encouraged by my teachers, my college years when I explored languages and religion and philosophy and history and narratives, my year of volunteer work in inner-city Cleveland, my two years of contemplative theological study at St. John's School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, my subsequent doctoral study at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and becoming a wife and mother (by far the two most important roles I've ever taken on)--and I'm seeing all the moments and people who have brought me to this place of confidence and creative empowerment. It turns out that creative writing is my niche (a fact I've known for a long time but also pushed aside for other tasks). And now, in the online world of 2012, I can write and publish a book with relative ease, no publishing company needed. Who knew?
If you would like to take a look at the details of my book project, they may be found here:
Sometimes I look in the mirror and all I can say is, "Kate, you've failed. Again." This has been happening more often than not lately, and it's really getting me down.
Failure is one of those items that I find hard to bear. It goes against my impulse to be successful, to look good in the eyes of my friends, my family, and my colleagues.
And maybe this is why I continue to be Christian. Jesus, the man who's supposed to be the Messiah, failed, too. He died a horrific death instead of completing the establishment of a new reign, and his followers had to make up excuses about why. He became the sacrificial lamb, they reasoned. It must have been God's will, they claimed.
What do I do when I fail? Figure out where to lay blame. Explain it away. The same exact thing.
But maybe I fail because I just haven't done enough, I haven't put in enough effort, I haven't been smart enough or quick enough or clever enough.
Every pore of my being screams out that this cannot be, but it is.
And Lent is one of the few times when not doing enough is enough. Jesus dying on the cross is enough.
And when failure occurs, that is the moment when room is made for something greater, more powerful, and more enduring than what was.
If I deny my failure, how can that failure be resurrected?
In my last post I invited questions and stories about wedding preparation, and Erin M. asked me to address the following:
I wonder whether you could speak about the importance of family in the premarital process. Several of my friends/co-workers struggled with family throughout the premarital process. And these struggles created long-lasting rifts in families. I was fortunate to survive the premarital process relatively unscathed and enjoy a good relationship with my family/husband's family.
Erin picked up on one of the most difficult aspect of planning any major life ritual: finding ways to include and honor the experiences, memories, values, and desires of all those who are closest to the bridal couple. Erin asked about family in particular, so I'll limit this post to that, and offer a few points to consider when difficulties with family members arise.
The first thing for a bridal couple to realize in wedding preparation is that rituals matter, because rituals say worlds about what we believe and value in life. Rituals such as weddings are iconic of relationship dynamics, and rituals tell us what matters to those who prepare them. Often the preparation for a ritual is even more difficult to manage than the ritual itself, because the preparation period is the time when decisions are made about what will happen, who will have a role to play, and what the most important roles will be. It's easy, then, for insecurities about relationships and perceptions of shared values to surface in the process of preparing for a wedding. More about that below.
The second thing to consider is who will pay for the wedding. Weddings are often considerably more expensive than what the bridal couple can afford without going into a great deal of debt. With the question of money comes the question of power: if the bridal couple accepts an offer by parents (or others) to help pay for the wedding, those offering to help pay may feel a sense of entitlement about how the wedding ritual is to be prepared. Is it right for parents or other financial donors to expect to be able to shape the wedding? Well: yes. And no.
If the bridal couple wants to be able to shape the wedding without having consider the input of someone who has offered to subsidize the wedding, the bridal couple should seriously consider the possibility of having a "non-glamorous wedding." Just figuring in the cost of catering, a reception hall, a wedding site, an officiant, the clothing (yes, the clothing!), the rings, and a photographer, your "bare-bones" wedding budget can cost over $10,000. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is closer to $20,000. With most couples getting married in their twenties, it's obvious that budgets like this are well outside what newlyweds can afford. If you want to avoid having your wedding paid for by someone else, you'll have to challenge the norms that the U.S. wedding industry has established and find other ways to make your Big Day as special and beautiful as you want it. Personally, I think this is a great idea; I think it's also the very best way to make your wedding your own while still honoring those you love.
If the bridal couple accepts the financial assistance of parents or others, they'll very likely have to face to engage in some difficult conversations. The key to handling conflict with parents and other family members, especially if they are helping you pay for your wedding, is to be honest from the very beginning about how much say you're willing to give them in the wedding preparation. If someone is helping you cover the cost of your wedding, they absolutely have a right to know what role they'll have in planning the wedding, and if you want that role to be minimal, they also have every right to withdraw their financial support. You may end up being forced, for lack of funds, to have the non-glamorous wedding I mention above; but "glamorous" should not be your end goal. "Loving," "beautiful," and "meaningful" should be your end goal.
There will always be conflict the bridal couple cannot anticipate. It may turn out that the bride's parents are uncomfortable with the groom, or vice versa. It may also turn out that the groom's family isn't comfortable with the bride's family, or vice versa. Below I offer a few practical do's and don't's to smoothing over any conflicts, potential or actual, whether they're money-related or relationship-related.
Don't wait till the wedding rehearsal to get your closest family members all in one room. Do have both sets of parents over for dinner at the same time. Make their favorite foods. Share with them how much they mean to you and how glad you are that they're going to be there to share in your Big Day. It will mean the world to them, and will shape how they feel and act once the Big Day arrives.
Don't wait till you have a request to make of your future in-laws to talk to them by phone, e-mail, or in person. Do make an effort to talk to them just for the sake of talking with them. You'll be spending a lot of time talking with them for the rest of your married life, and now's the time to build relationships with them. I always noticed growing up that my dad had a really friendly, easy-going relationship with my mom's dad--it's part of what made our family so strong.
Don't forget that, in the end, your wedding day will be just the beginning of the rest of your life, and most of the minute ritual details of your wedding will be forgotten. Do remember at every planning stage to approach and shape your wedding in a way that honors the people you want to have around throughout your married life, especially family members. Finding the perfect dress or the most dashing shade for the tuxedo vest won't matter; honoring those you love and creating meaningful ways for them to honor you will matter. That brings me to one more point:
Don't forget that the reason your family wants to be involved is because they love you. Do remember that the roles you give them throughout the wedding preparation and the Big Day will, in part, show them how much they mean to you.
In the end, the love and care the bridal couple demonstrates for those who share in their wedding day--and the love those people show for the couple--is what really matters.
If you have questions or stories to share about wedding preparation, you are more than welcome to leave a comment below! I look forward to hearing from you. Audience participation is encouraged!
Who knew that creating a website could be so much fun?
I'll tell you, bringing "Life. Love. Liturgy." into being has been a great pleasure and a greater leap. Suddenly throwing oneself into the anonymous, public spotlight of the World Wide Web is a rather terrifying prospect!
Many of you who are reading this are friends of mine, or friends of friend of mine, and I'm grateful you're here. Please pass on the link to anyone you know who might find this site useful, and if you have any suggestions or questions, let me know. I'll be glad to hear them.
In the meantime, what's a burning question about wedding preparation you would like to ask, or what story of your own can you share about preparing for/engaging in a major life ritual? Feel free to share in the comments below.