returning to love and hope and understanding


Return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

~ Joel 2:12

How will you make way for your return?  Are you giving something up?  Are you adding something in?  Will you weep and mourn?  Most likely.  Will you gaze outward, reach upward, maybe look within?  What can you do this Lent to truly transform your heart and not just change your garments?

Today marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday, and a good indicator of my willingness to return to God with my whole heart is just how many hurdles I have to jump over to get to mass!  Sheesh.  Littlest will go with her school in the morning, but since my students are in the middle of a writing cycle and need me in class, I will miss that opportunity and the noontime masses in my area.  The Catholic church I belong to has a beautiful ecumenical (non-denominational) service in the evening but will not offer communion.  The church down the street from that?  Well, in anticipation of my semi-annual trip to the confessional, I’ll be nice here and just say that’s not even an option.  My afternoon will consist of schlepping an hour home from work, taxiing biggest from the bus stop to dance, and then making my way in rush hour traffic across town to a church I’ve been to exactly once so I can sing and pray and receive my ashes.  Who in God’s name does this?  Isn’t it easier to throw ones hands in the air in OH WELL and succumb to the schedule like everyone else?  I mean, who has been known to drive two and half hours for good church?!  Do you know anyone, I mean, anyone . . . besides me?

At some point on this blog I contemplated this gravitational pull some of us nuts have toward church.  Why do we go?  What is it that happens there?  And more importantly, why is what happens there so vital to our being?  Here’s what I had to say,

I’m thinking today about my friends and companions and what draws us to one another.  Prompted to delve deeply into my own philosophy on faith by a priest friend who posited these questions on his blog yesterday, what are you hungry for when you go to church?  What happens there that satisfies you? I couldn’t easily answer in a quick reply.  This is a huge question for me because I am not a rote attendee–I have made a conscious decision to live a spiritual life and I don’t go just because it’s what I’ve always done.There is something there that stirs grace within me and helps me go out into the world with a deep sense of gratitude and joy, a sense of peace and hope that then spills over into the lives of others I encounter along the way.  What is that something?  Well I could easily identify the tangible poetry of church: the music, the visual beauty in stained glass or marble or oil and canvas, the words strung together in a song that speaks to me.  But I think there is something intangible and much more visceral that draws us in.

In the gospel readings . . . Jesus and his disciples multiply loaves and fishes and feed the multitudes gathered around their table, hungry for wisdom, healing and affirmation.   They are drawn into community around this single most ancient drive for fellowship.  What brings them there?  This is the beauty of our human story because while I think we all come from a place of misery at some level–whether that misery is true cosmic pain, physical discomfort or doubt and insecurity–we arrive in this place of glorious hope . . . once we are together, gathered around a table.  It often seems as if we are in a deserted place, with cruel destruction brought about by natural and man made disasters, and to overcome such devastation, we reach out for the hands of those around us and simply hold on.  That spirit moving within us, the spirit that leads us to one another, I believe, is love and hope and understanding.

~ Rebecca Board Liljenstolpe, “For We are In a Deserted Place Here


Thinking about staging your return this Lent? Visit our NEW sister blog THE PROVINCE OF JOY and learn how you can join in our discussion of Sarah Parsons’ book A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent.

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i’m planning a lent party and you’re all invited

journeythroughlentIf you’re in California and desperate for more rain, clouds, and cold weather, have no fear because Lent is almost here.  You know, that dreary season of penance and abstinence when you can finally put those tank tops and flip flops you’ve been wearing away because it’s time to squeeze into that itchy sackcloth and stand in a long line heads down for your annual dousing in ashes.  Woe is me!  It’s LENT.  Boo hoo.  And if you haven’t been blessed by a winter of balmy weather and are stuck somewhere else where it’s seasonably freezing, guess what, forty more days of cold for you!

You know it’s always struck me as odd, being a convert and all, how many people struggle with this annual need to “give something up” for Lent and then complain about it to everyone they meet.  For many it’s an opportunity to put aside a vice like drinking or going out to eat or only checking Facebook once a day instead of every fifteen minutes.   Oh I can’t eat that buttery gooey slice of cake dripping in caramel sauce . . . I gave up dessert for Lent.  But you go ahead, that’s alright.  Woe is me!  While I don’t dispute that these temporary denials open up space for God, it’s hard for me to believe they’re that transformative.  And isn’t that what Lent is all about?  In his introduction to the wonderful anthology God For Us, Ronald Rolheiser OMI tells us that Lent comes from an Old English word for springtime, and that in Latin, lente means slowly.  For me, Lent is akin to pushing though the cold muck of winter, stretching my arms heavenward, and opening to beauty.  It could be that way for you, too!  Certainly we must have the ashes to remind us the house needs sweeping, but don’t dwell there too long is all I’m saying.  Instead of giving something up and then being grumpy about it until you get it back — instead of temporarily taking something out of your life — why not make room for something new.  Where in your life can you clear more space for the sacred . . . and be permanently transformed?

This Lent you can keep your chocolate and drink your wine

If you’d like to make more room in your busy life for spiritual fellowship, prayer and JOY, then you should come to my Lent party!  I’ll be leading a group through Sarah Parsons’ A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent, and while this group will meet in person, I have a a series of reflections posted at The Province of Joy.   Join me there where we can share our Lenten stories and engage in an online discussion about the book.  In her nifty little tome, Parsons reminds us that Lent is not all about penitence and fasting.  It’s a clearing season.  A time for introspection.  A time of transformation and renewal.  I don’t know about you but sometimes there’s a lot more standing between me and God than a box of See’s candy or a good cabernet!  If you think you might like to carve out space in your busy life for spiritual fellowship, prayer and JOY, join us as we journey through Lent together!  You can purchase the book, follow the blog posts, and hopefully share your stories in our online community.  Stay tuned or subscribe to this blog for scheduled updates.

It seems that we need beginnings, or everything eventually devolves and declines into unnecessary and sad endings.  You were made for so much more! . . . You are the desiring of God.  God desires through you and longs for Life and Love through you and in you.  Allow it, speak it, and you will find your place in the universe of things. ~ Fr. Richard Rohr


These are also great books for Lent  . . .

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my #awp14 itinerary

AWP2014I’m about to head to my first AWP Conference and before I’ve even gotten on the plane, I can’t see straight.  The drum beat leading up to this conference of 15,000 writers, publishers, editors, teachers and so on began about a month ago, and between the tweets and emails and blog posts hawking this reading or that book signing, I am utterly overwhelmed.  Not only are there about four sessions on my itinerary for every hour in the day and a drool-inducing bookfair to wander around, but there are colleagues with dinner reservations and friends with access to VIP receptions and invitations to cocktail parties masquerading as poetry readings.  Calgon!!  A dear friend who has been going to this bookish party for ten years sent me an article she just wrote called “How to Make a Fool of Yourself at AWP,” and I am scared, people.  This is the same friend who used to leave strange boys sleeping on my couch in college, only instead of Grateful Deadheads or fraternity brothers, now they’re likely to be published poets or friends of Barack Obama (read her funny article).  Don’t get me wrong.  I am looking forward to the intellectual coma this is sure to put me in, but remember that I am essentially creeping out of the Mom Cave for the first time here so to speak.  I’m anxiously anticipating a pack of wolves with red markers in their hands.  Unabashed self-promoters with wet ink and a surly quip — you know, grad school posturing all over again, lord help me!  Maybe I’ve got it all wrong.  I probably do.  And gosh darn it, even if I don’t have a book out, I’m still a pretty good, um, blogger.  Oh, Lord help me.

:: I’ve selected a characteristically eclectic mix of offerings focused on blogging, publishing, star gazing, teaching and writing as spiritual practice.  For a sampling of the literary stardust I’ll be dancing in at AWP, check out some of the events I’ve got lined up: [Read more…]

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