The Seeing Prayer

I open Ann's book.

"You will want to see this."

I had just closed Juliet Benner's book Contemplative Vision, where I'd marked, "From its beginnings Christianity has been a religion of seeing."

Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD
Behold the beauty of the LORD
O taste and see

Ann's husband is the seeing-guide, pulling her away from dishes, carrot peels, prayers weary.

"He leads me the impossible distance of a whole two steps to the windowsill. I'm transfixed."

And within moments he releases Ann to the night, to the fields, to the moon. I think on this. To be the one who releases others into seeing. Is this not a holy thing? I think on this. Who in my life opens me to sight? I think on this. Do I believe that prayer is sometimes as simple as the lived-prayer of go-see and come-see and I-see?

As a child of El Roi (God-who-sees), I think on this.

Quotes from Chapter 6 of the beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Scriptures in order of appearance: Exodus 14:13, Psalm 27:4, Psalm 34:8.

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Of Lost Boys and Suffering

"The family accepts. God meant it this way."

The words of a family who lost a boy. The words of a family who will sit with his empty chair for the rest of their lives. Who will mourn the lost voice, the laughter, the future they thought was theirs.

I keep arguing with myself, keep going 'round on this. But now I finally want to write it down. Even if the family accepts it, I do not believe God meant it that way.

I have wanted to glide past this part of Chapter 5. For days now, I have wanted to glide past it. This dialog raised by eight little words: the question of suffering and evil in the world. Why the little boy lost? Why Haiti? Why the girl in the brothel? And the mother lost to suicide? Why?

I do not believe God means it this way. This "creation groaning,"* this fallenness, this "human beings sold as slaves."**

I do believe God works to transfigure, as Ann says. And that we are transformed when we can give thanks "at all times because He is all good."

But who am I, in this great dialog that has been going on throughout the ages? Just one little voice.

There are bigger voices who can continue this dialog better than I, and I hope to read them in the days to come. One is After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken, by Kent Annan. The other is The Innocence of God, by Udo Middelmann.

And I am curious to hear what they have to say.

*Romans 8:22
**Revelation 18:13

Quotes from Chapter 5 of the beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

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Sermon Notes Poetry: Isaiah 49:1-7

Snowy here. Cold. My mind feels winter-sleepy. Writing poems is hard now. So when I can steal someone else's words and just keep setting them down, I appreciate that.

These poems were woven from Dave Stradler's words at my church this past Sunday...

Isaiah 49:1-7

My 20's and 30's
planting shadows,
I quiver


Forging fire,
battle ready
visions of roads,
cars that
lose me,
you, the whole


Three, four people
on board,
on the edge falling
off until
it's me, just me
on the boat.


God's heart
is in my apartment
captured in bars
on White Plains
coffee shops,
lifting love.


How do we
be a light
with backbone
loving community
no sign on the door
saying, "You don't belong."


They want real
God-lives, out
meet, we'll come
to you
holy martinis.


The whole bible
in just seven verses.
Pop it open,
step questions
over the short night.


mornings' heart
to tribes beyond
beyond walls.

Sharing with One Shot Wednesday today.

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Talking Back: Marking Out Temples

God in the Yard, etc

Contemplation means to 'mark out a temple.' Chapter 3 in God in the Yard is an invitation to begin that marking. The word also means 'putting together.'

What shall I mark out? What shall I put together?

There are times in life when I really don't know the next thing. I don't know what pencil to pick up, where to start drawing the hopeful lines that will hem me in to a place where I will find my 'putting together' moments.

I wish it was as simple as relying on the old standbys. Read the bible. Go to church. It is not that simple. Sometimes we are more like the Israelites following wordless cloud and fire to where we're supposed to pitch our tent, where we're to pull out gold rings and acacia poles... and hang the thick, sweet walls of the tabernacle. Sometimes we are Elijah just standing in the sheer silence, waiting.

As nerve-wracking as this is, there is some comfort in it. After all, these days I don't want to think and plan and try to make things perfect. I just want to BE. I just want to wake up and make tea, look out the window at the next new snow, and BE.

Is it okay to mark out a place of just-BEing? I would like that. I would.

Can I just-BE a little I am, in the heart of the Great I AM? I would like to simply rest there. I would.

"But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother..." (Ps.131:2)

Fire and Cloud

Fire and Cloud pastel, by L.L. Barkat.

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The Final Dare

I am so, so taken by the dare of writing 1,000 gifts.

I am sorely tempted.

It is Chapter 5 that does it to me tonight. Ann is somewhere in the 900's, and I want it. I want the life that can write...

Brown eggs fresh from the henhouse
Pinky skin of newborn pigs
Opening jars of preserves
Earthy aroma of woods

I want to be the woman who looks out over her farm and finds the moments that...

drink the sweet right out of now.

You have no idea how much I want it.

I want it so much that I would pretend I could find it by tracing the same lines through the same dots.

But I already know it is not me. Me, who lives urban, shovels snow off concrete, looks for beauty somewhere in the cracks of the sidewalks and the streetlights iced. Me who traces for eternity in pastels and the dance. I know it is not me. And I can hardly say it, for fear that someone will say, "But it should be you. This is the way."

And now I think that the dare is finally this: to be spiritually beautiful right where I am, in the way He has gifted and wooed me to be.

Quotes from Chapter 5 of the beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

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After the Running, the Lullaby

"Hurry and impatience are sure marks of an amateur."

Ann quotes Evelyn Underhill, and I think of my favorite unhurried moments right off... the slow tracing of fingers on a face and arm, the slow lullaby singing to my Eldest just a few nights ago ("Will you sing to me, Mommy?" that 13-year-old asked like a child), the slow mornings and evenings of sitting on my girls' sled and just sipping tea.

I like slow.

I like fast too. I admit a certain thrill to riding through the woods on horseback (oh, that was long, long ago). A thrill to meeting deadlines. The joy of racing around the block (My lullaby-girl likes to dare me, "Run, I'll beat you!" And, long-legged, younger, she always does.)

Suddenly curious, I look up the word deadline. I know what it means, of course. But I want the roots. The formerly-meant meaning.

A boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards.

I think about this. When does fast mean death to me, the kind of death Ann hopes to save us from? Is it fast itself that's the problem? Maybe the formerly-meant meaning of the word deadline holds the answer (the questions?)...

Am I a prisoner to my deadlines? Have I surrounded myself with unforgiving guards? Am I myself sometimes the unforgiving guard?

God is the first guard, and He is forgiving. He gave us work, he did. I don't know that he minds fast. But he gave us Sabbath too. Permission to rest. After the running comes the lullaby, the tracing, and tea sipped glory-slow.

Or, like Ann says it, Suds...all color in sun.

Quotes from Chapter 4 of the beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

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Was it Really the Lists?

There is a part of me that feels like a failure reading a whole book about the saving power of gratitude lists. My lists never saved, only fell flat. I wonder now, did I forget the poetry?

Because, reading Ann's lists, I am struck. She says she's writing simple things; she believes she's being grateful by number after sweet (and sometimes hard) number. But, maybe because it is all written down in one place now, I see it within seconds. She is doing more. She is writing poetry, folding beauty into single words, lines, phrases. Mining the moments for images that seer and sing, wonder and woo.

Morning shadows across old floors, she writes. Then, jam piled high on toast. Her words are what begin to pile high for me. If I take out the numbers and just stack the words, the poems appear...

Wind flying cold wild in hair
Grandma's pressure pot still dancing
Old men looking for words just perfect.

I know she experiences this as a kind of thankfulness, this putting down of poetic words. I wonder if it is something more... the beginning of a dance she engaged in with the Spirit...

and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters...

And what did the Spirit of God do but begin spilling words in pure Genesis poetry, the refrain being "it is good"?

Suddenly I do not feel like a list-failure anymore. I make my lists, I do. Lists without numbers. A thousand lines, like Ann? Maybe in time. Poem after poem after poem, naming the world and grief and spirit and dreams.

Quotes from Chapter 3 of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

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A Mirage of the Moon

She wakes from nightmares—friend Ann— only to feel her sheets and realize, It was all a dream, a mirage of the moon.

Today I am still dealing with a string of mini-crises— the latest being a flood in the basement (how can this be, when we got trenches dug and a sump put in last year? Well, the rains have nowhere to go, so this year they are welling up from under the house itself, where frozen ground has said, 'there is no room.')

A few minutes ago, before reading Ann's words, I'd been climbing the stairs and thinking of the beauty of this small house, despite the current troubles. I'd been thinking of Lemony Snicket, who made me laugh with his running theme on perspective, in A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Then I opened to these words, It was all a dream, a mirage of the moon, and suddenly I was back on the stairs with Lemony and his perspective, thinking, There is some way in which all the crises we encounter are mirages. Our end is glory.

There are stars, says Ann, when she wakes from the nightmares.

There is glory beyond this moment, I say.

Maybe even a strange kind of glory in this moment— me moving sopping boxes, me being resourceful and finding another sump to use to direct the new water towards the new-last-year sump, me climbing old red oak stairs and opening the book of a friend. And just now, the sun over the river, over snowy trees— a lick of red welcoming the new moon rising.

Perspective. It doesn't take away the pain. But it does sift through for the glory.

Quotes from Chapter Two of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.

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Writing in the World Together

One Thousand Gifts

I open the package and find Ann's words— these words that stole so many hours, so they could become gifts to others.

These are not just the words of a stranger, these hard-wrought words. They are the words of a friend. I know how hard they were to put down, to pull out. And I'm not talking about the effort of craft (which seems so effortless to me when I watch her do her thing). I'm talking about the effort of laying out the heart bare.

It is a strange thing to put our hearts in a book and see that book travel on. It is a sacrifice, this writer's life— if we write true. Because someone is going to say something or even simply ignore us. And a thousand beautiful compliments can be so easily wiped away with one dour response. Likewise, a thousand beautiful compliments can fool us into thinking we are not who we really are.

This is why we must write in the world together. A cord of three strands (or more) is not quickly broken.

I always wished I could have what the "great writers" had. Shaw had L'Engle. Lewis had Tolkien. Just friends, you see, to be there before and after and during the words. To see the heart that went in. To know the heart that is also outside the words.

In some ways, the online community is just that. My L'Engle. My Tolkien. And for today, on the table, my Ann. And so many days, my you.

Writing is not, cannot be, the solitary thing it's made out to be. Maybe this is true of any art, of anywhere we dare to put our hearts.

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Talking Back: Of Art Pilgrimages and Rosaries

"If I could decide my own 'program' of spiritual practice, it would look like... [be honest, not compliant here]" she said in God in the Yard. (It was an open-response opportunity in Chapter 2.)

It feels mildly subversive to write, "My program would look like an art pilgrimage, tea-drinking outdoors, ballet, the rosary, and onions (yes, onions)."

For a long time I considered Scripture-reading to be the only real spiritual practice. Prayer was a close second, and I was careful to respond to Scripture in my journal by recording my prayers. Don't get me wrong. I love Scripture. And prayer is obviously a long-term aspect of a life of faith.

But there is something of the glory of God that cannot be found simply in words and in two dimensions. God is a universe wide (and wider). God created all that is around me. Each scent and color, each sound, each movement, potentially tells me something of God. Not as if these things ARE God. But they are God's expressions. If I believe Genesis, I must believe that.

So my spiritual practice looks unconventional: art, dance, slicing onions. But the thread that holds it together is the praise that arises when I touch these dimensions. It is the spiritual practice of the Creator himself in Genesis... that one that responds with whispers, or shouts, "It is good."

God also said, "It is not good," when he saw man alone. That too is spiritual practice... seeing the not-good, and opening our hands to fill the void.

In the end, my practice seems very simple. See, hear, touch the world, and respond.

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Talking Back: Playing Towards God

Rosary book and pastels

As you know, I'm going through God in the Yard. This week I finished Chapter One.

The author said I could pick an idea that was new to me, and blog about it. I chose the idea of playing towards God.

Too often, I think we work towards God— try to orchestrate every last thing, try to be productive, make a "profit," prove the business of our souls.

Playing feels different. It is a trusting thing which says, "Let's see what comes." It is (perhaps) more prone to rhythms, shifts, songs, images.

For me, the rosary is going to be a new way to play towards God this year. I don't know what I'll find along the beads, but this week I found my pastels again, after many, many months...

The Rosary

The mysteries—the subjects of contemplation that one moves through as one prays each subdivision of beads—are related aspects of Christ's life: five glad events, five sad events, five teaching events, and five glorious events.

— p.xiii, The Rosary by Garry Wills.

Rosary Pastel 1

Rosary Pastel 2

Rosary Pastel 3

Rosary Pastel 4

Rosary Pastel 5

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Talking Back for 12 Weeks

God in the Yard Rosary

I am a person who has been known to talk to herself. Even aloud. I don't know why I do this. I find a strange delight in it.

So it seems natural for me to do what I've decided to do. Talk back to myself for 12 weeks, by going through God in the Yard.

Lest you think me terribly vain (though you might be able to make a case for that :), I will tell you why I made this decision.

The group I speak to on a regular basis (except this Spring) has decided to go through God in the Yard together. I usually study along with whatever they study. So here we are. I'm going to be talking back to myself, for the purpose of engaging with others.

Andrea is part of this group too, which is kind of fun.

In looking at the book, I decided on a basic approach I'll almost surely depart from...

• Read a chapter a week, probably on Sundays, and journal during the reading (there are guided opportunities within each chapter)

• Throughout the week, answer one question a day (from the discussion question section at the back of the book). With the exception of the first chapter, which has seven questions, this works out perfectly because there are six questions for each chapter. One a day, excluding Sunday. :)

• Somehow tie in my rosary journey and my art pilgrimage, probably on Sundays. The tie-in might be so loose no one will recognize it. That's okay. The author told me the journey is mine :)

So far I did the introduction and chapter one. I heard today that the study actually begins in March, but I'm thinking I'll keep going now that I started. This will put me a little ahead, but I suppose I might be anyway since I've read the book before. ;-)

In the Intro, I liked the opening poem, and I'm actually taking it to heart this year. Paying attention to small things. Things within reach. Living bit by bit. Like the journey, which happens one little step at a time. (Except when we catch the occasional bus and go miles in minutes. There are always exceptions, aren't there... )

Here is the poem, and I think I may have already found a moon, in my focus on the rosary...

Find a single
tree, find
the moon.
It doesn't
take much.
Just begin.

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The Year of the Rosary

Rosary in Morning Light

When I was a little girl, I had a rosary. I don't remember what it looked like. I just know I had one, because I was Catholic and somebody gave me a rosary.

It probably burned in one of the house fires that ensured I have no childhood homes to take my children back to. No place to say, "Here I grew. There was the little petunia garden. That is the window to my old room. There was the floor I sat on and played with my rosary and said a few Hail Mary's when I'd been bad to my sister. (Whenever I went to the priest it was usually to confess that I'd been bad to my sister, you know.)"

Maybe it was pink glass beads. Or blue. I've always loved blue, and I would like it if the rosary had been blue glass. But I was a girl, and it was probably pink. It probably had a silver Jesus on a silver cross, hanging on the end. And I probably did my share of looking into his face and feeling sorry that people did such a thing to him.

That rosary is gone and I never replaced it. Because one day I wasn't Catholic anymore and rosaries were for people who didn't know how to *really* pray. So I was counseled.

I am glad that I went on Retreat this past Fall, and someone recognized that I needed a new rosary. I think maybe he suspected that I don't really know how to pray.

It is a beautiful rosary, though it has no Jesus. Only a cross. I cannot look at his face, because there is no face to look at. As a grown up, I feel a small sense of grace in this. Now that I know it was not just people who put him there. It was me. And it IS me still. Growing up reveals this to a person.

So the empty cross is a solace, in its way.

It has been a long time since I've gone to a priest, confessed that I was bad to my sister. Said a few Hail Mary's along glass beads and knelt at the altar.

And this is why I'm thinking to make this the year of the rosary. Not to say any Hail Marys, (though surely she has much to teach me). But because I still have sisters, so to speak.

The rosary may just help me remember that, bead by bead.

The Gifted Rosary photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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