“What if redeeming the time means bringing our time—and every other aspect of our lives, ultimately—back under God’s control, so that it is no longer our jobs or our circumstances or our lack of finances or even our families in charge of us?”
It has taken some time to decide whether to post this or not. It’s not a usual podcast of any description. It’s wonky and awkward and there is no real sermon/teaching and none of us are professional singers.
But this is the church at worship, at the start of the year, simple and awkward and intent on continually dedicating ourselves and our year to the God who loves us, so, whether it’s worth listening to or not, it’s worth posting.
Back in 2018 (I keep wanting to say “last year,” but that is no longer correct…), a lot of fairly momentous things happened. In hindsight (which is, as they say, 2020–that’s a pun, guys), Paul and I were being prepped for each of these events for a long time, but in not-hindsight, all of them were a complete surprise.
Exhibit A: Moving house–which we had already planned to do, but weren’t expecting to buy my parents‘.
The moving thing took up the middle six months of the year, at least, and the other two events spent the final three months hurtling toward fruition, and around that time I was meeting with my spiritual directors’ peer supervision group and my colleagues reminded me about a Rule of Life.
Each of them, it turns out, had one. I was familiar with the concept, but you guys. I don’t like being boxed in. I’ve never been able to colour within the lines. I’m the type of person who wants to make sure I do what’s expected of me–in as unexpected a way as possible. My best illustration of this is when I was a senior in high school and one of the theme days during Spirit Week was “Beach Day.” So, rather than dress in swim gear like everyone else, I cut the visor off a baseball cap, sewed a cardboard beak on instead, made wings out of some old pillow cases, and dressed up as a seagull. (If there were photos, I would post one, I promise.) My methods are, as you can tell from that vignette, not tremendously efficient, and it might not surprise you to learn that I had few close friends pre-college.
And yet, I’ve always been like this, and so the idea of gridding up my life or heck, even just planning, was not appealing. At the same time, everything about my life in 2018 felt kind of out of control, and in reality, I have also always worked best with some kind of structure, so I bought myself a book about creating a rule of life and slowly picked my way through it. All. Year. Long.
Turns out, the book wasn’t a great fit for someone like me. Turns out a Rule of Life is exactly the perfect fit for someone like me. I know I’m kind of a strange bird (haha–cf. story above), but I actually think a Rule of Life is exactly the perfect fit for someone like you, too.
For me the catalyst to finish it was my five-week stint as a Transportation Security Officer last fall. (More about that later. Sometime. Maybe.) The breakthrough in my thinking about it came when listening to a podcast in which the author of a new book described a rule of life as a trellis. (A trellis is not a box or even a wall. A trellis is a structure which promotes a plant’s growth, health, and improvisation.) And the motivator to help anyone I can possibly lasso into the project create or discern their own trellis came from the fact that this last Advent and Christmas season–my first as a new pastor–was the least stressful Advent and Christmas season in my adult memory. It’s not that they weren’t busy. It’s just that the busy-ness was not in charge.
Also, from about September on, I’ve continually run into references to and resources for Rule of Life work. And so that, dear reader, is why I really hope you’ll take me up on this offer to join the experiment in our upcoming Online Spiritual Conversation. I’m not at expert on or at this. My trellis is still a little wonky and I’m not exactly following it to a T. And yet, life is still a lot saner than it was.
How do you cultivate a fruitful life? Probably not with New Year’s resolutions…
Who doesn’t long to stop feeling overrun by the demands of schedules, jobs, relationships, wallets? Was the easy yoke and light burden Jesus promised when we come to Him just a PR pitch? Is a joyfully managed life actually possible through connection with Him?
My church is starting a teaching/workshop series this Sunday (1/12) in which we’ll explore how to stay connected to the True Vine in each area of our lives, healthily training up a “trellis” (aka “Rule of Life,” but trellis sounds more appealing) instead of straggling helplessly along the ground. And I thought…why wouldn’t the Pilgrimage also want–and benefit–from exploring this topic, too? If you’re local and don’t currently belong to a church, we’d love to have you participate with us in this exploration/experiment in person.
Either way, I will post recordings of our Sunday workshops here so you can follow along. If you think you’d like to join an online discussion group for support and brainstorming and “trellis hacks,” please sign up below you will soon receive a link to the group. Hope you’ll join us!
NOTE: As ever, you do not need to be a Christian to participate in an Online Spiritual Conversation (or any other aspect of the Pilgrimage, frankly)–just open to journeying respectfully with (lots of different types of) Christians.
“On our own, we can’t make a desert into a garden. We can try to put a positive spin on our personal desert. We can try to reframe our desert. We can try to run away from the desert…None of that will bring us joy–maybe some happiness for a few seconds; maybe a few moments of self-satisfaction. But the joy of God can turn the dryness and lack and suffering of our personal Sahara into the Garden of Eden.”
I met with my spiritual director last week and in the course of our conversation, she said, “I wonder if you would consider…I think we did this together when we were in London, too…writing a Magnificat. You know, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for…’ You write the stuff after the ‘for.'”
I had completely forgotten doing that exercise. I mean, completely. And unless I wrote it in one of my many journals at the time, I don’t still have a copy of what I wrote then. But as she was describing it, all of a sudden I did have a memory of her suggesting that, and my contemplating the actual Magnificat, Mary’s paean of praise to God when she was visiting Elizabeth and after not-yet-born John the Baptist leapt for joy at the presence of not-yet-born Jesus.
And then I remembered–Yes!–that was also what finally persuaded me to try to read the Gospels from the point of view of Mary, and write it down in a story. The story that became Favored One.
“Maybe you can do it again,” said my spiritual director. “I’ve taken to writing a new one every year. Maybe you can even invite your church to do it.” Maybe I can, indeed. Or people on Pilgrimage. Or you. You could try it, too.
I haven’t written my new Magnificat yet, but I will. And in it will be something about the gladness I feel about the story Mary lived, and the story God gave me to write, and also about wise women God’s put in my life to help me on my Pilgrimage, too. Maybe one day I’ll grow up to be one, too.
There are three women who, unbeknownst to them (and not totally consciously to me either, until recently) inspired the writing of Favored One, and exactly this year–the year I decided to publish the novel of the woman chosen to physically bear the Word of God in her body, and the year I became a differently Word-bearing sort of female, as pastor of a church–all three of these women have re-entered my life. One of them is now one of my spiritual directees. Another is now my spiritual director. And the third one is Madeleine L’Engle.
I’ll tell you about how each of these women inspired the book in other blogposts, but right now I want to talk about Madeleine L’Engle. Madeleine L’Engle, you might know, is not currently living–at least not in the plane of reality I’m currently inhabiting. (I was going to say “at least not in the plane of reality I, and those of you reading this, are inhabiting,” but who knows? Maybe people in the next life can read our blogposts–although I’m not sure why they’d want to.) So you may wonder how Madeleine L’Engle has re-entered my life since I’m not a spiritualist or anything.
Secondly Jeff, friend, Pilgrimage participant and supporter, and spiritual formation guide himself, a few months ago gifted me with a review of Favored One on Amazon.
I didn’t pay him to say this, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what, in Favored One, reminds him of L’Engle’s writing, but if anything does, I’m delighted. I’m also delighted because, some years before I even thought of writing a book like this, L’Engle put the irrational seed of its possibility in my mind without my even realizing it.
I was a literature student at a college in the Midwest, and the department had invited some illustrious authors for, I think, their annual literature festival. I don’t remember if there were more than Chaim Potok and Madeleine L’Engle because those two had been favorites of mine for years and I was already starstruck by their presence. Not starstruck enough to do the normal fangirl thing and buy a copy of a book that each of them had written so they could sign it. No, no–too broke and inherently cheap for that (though I have regretted it since).
There are some ways in which I have always been unusually mature for my age, and a whole lot more ways in which I developed much more slowly than most people in general. The way that manifested in this case was when I, a 19-year-old, presented myself before these two illustrious authors like the 8-year-old I had been eleven years before–with an “autograph book,” in which were (and later followed) the signatures of all and sundry of my friends and acquaintances with whom I had even slightly more than a passing interaction.
To be fair, I gave the two writers each their own two-page spread (on one page of which I had affixed their photos as they appeared in the campus newspaper)–and also, by the time I got to Mr Potok, I was feeling pretty dorky. But he graciously signed the page next to his photo and then I moved on to Ms L’Engle. “This is kind of silly,” I said as I proffered my book, “but I don’t have…” She smiled at me, took my autograph book, and wrote in it.
She did not say, “Don’t be so insecure, young woman. Have faith. And maybe write a novel about Mary if you feel up to it.” And I didn’t think it. But her taking the time to reassure me by writing her poem “After Annunciation” in my silly book, it cracked open a door in my head or heart to start intuiting some things about faith I had not considered before, and about life with God. And I did start wondering imaginatively how Mary felt about what happened to her which led to the whole God-becoming-human thing that Christians around the world celebrate at this time of year.
So I’m quite pleased to have anything I’ve written be associated with Madeleine L’Engle–but especially this thing. And at this time of year, too.