Blessing and Praying

January 1, 2016

This year, I wish to bless and pray. Bless and pray – moment after moment, day after day.

If I want to bless others, that blessing must come out of a life of prayer. A life of prayer trains me to welcome God’s presence each moment, one moment at a time.

Can I bless everyone I encounter? What about people who challenge me – those who dislike me, who bother me, who stress me out? Bless them. As Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . . But love your enemies, do good to them . . . .” (Luke 6:32, 35

What does it mean to bless? To me, it is a sacred wish for their complete well-being – prosperity, peace, happiness, spiritual connection, physical health. Most of all it’s a wish for intangible spiritual qualities like peace, joy, kindness, patience, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, hope, and of course love. To the degree that those qualities are present in our lives, the other blessings – health, wealth, wisdom, etc., those things that none of us are guaranteed — become less crucial to our well-being.

So when I bless you, I wish all good things for you.

The Bible has beautiful blessings:

“May God give you the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine” (Genesis 27:28).

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Jesus offered blessings such as comfort, mercy, righteousness, seeing God, even the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3-9).

So when I bless those whom I encounter, it’s a simple version of a lot of goodness: “May God give you the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. May God look upon you, be gracious to you, and give you peace, joy, comfort, mercy, love, and every other spiritual blessing.”

And then may those whom I bless, bless others and become a blessing to them!

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On Cheating.

Heart/Mind/Body

On Cheating.

I’m a cheater. Or a backslider. Or a relapser. Or maybe just a mistake-maker, or an expert starter-over.

So far, my addiction to sugar seems to be gone, or at least seriously diminished. I’m not craving sugar, but when it’s right in my face there’s still a possibility that it’ll go right into my mouth.

Confessions: On Friday morning I needed to be ready for an 11:00 funeral and finish up the church newsletter. Two things of almost equal importance. (Multi-tasking is overrated, if not completely fictitious. Who among us really does more than one thing at a time? We just try to do too many things in rapid sequence and call it “multi-tasking,” when often the more appropriate appellation is “insanity.”)

When my Mac completely froze and I hadn’t saved for the past 30 minutes, I was beside myself. Out of my mind. Certainly not present! So when…

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On Cheating.

On Cheating.

I’m a cheater. Or a backslider. Or a relapser. Or maybe just a mistake-maker, or an expert starter-over.

So far, my addiction to sugar seems to be gone, or at least seriously diminished. I’m not craving sugar, but when it’s right in my face there’s still a possibility that it’ll go right into my mouth.

Confessions: On Friday morning I needed to be ready for an 11:00 funeral and finish up the church newsletter. Two things of almost equal importance. (Multi-tasking is overrated, if not completely fictitious. Who among us really does more than one thing at a time? We just try to do too many things in rapid sequence and call it “multi-tasking,” when often the more appropriate appellation is “insanity.”)

When my Mac completely froze and I hadn’t saved for the past 30 minutes, I was beside myself. Out of my mind. Certainly not present! So when I stomped off to take a break and passed the remains of some cake in the dining room (leftovers given to my son and granddaughter, who had visited for a week) I grabbed some and gobbled it down. Frustration. Anxiety. Panic, even.

On Saturday I was at a 6-hour program on strategic planning, with piles of bagels and donuts provided. During the fifth hour I felt I would fall asleep any minute, or more likely die from inactivity and tedium (good program, but still too long), and I ate a donut filled with Bavarian cream. It may have saved my life. At least I can claim with certainty that I didn’t die of torpor.

These incidents don’t negate my fast; I just have to start all over again at that moment. I’m glad to say that I didn’t take the “screw it, I blew it so I’ll just go crazy and start again tomorrow” approach. It’s not a matter of the fast “working” or “not working.” It’s practice. It’s asking God to help me break the bonds of sugar addiction, or anything that acts as a continual pull from self-remembrance.

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Lent Reading I

Lent Reading I

March 13, 2014

“Our ability to understand resurrection, our experience of both a personal Easter as well as the Easter of Christ, is shaped by our stance toward life and what it brings our way. Herein lies the purpose of Lent. Whether it is imposed by circumstances or chosen through spiritual discipline, Lent is about nurturing a posture that holds all things lightly, that ensures that our passions are subject to us and not the other way around.” Pennoyer, Greg & Gregory Wolfe, ed., God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2014, p. x.

Nurturing “a posture that holds all things lightly,” ensuring “that our passions are subject to us and not the other way around” — these describe the focus and purpose of Lenten practices as well as any description I know of.

I discovered God For Us just a week or so ago through the BookNotes Blog of my very favorite bookstore (a shout out to http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/ — Hi, Byron and Beth!), and it’s the best book of meditations for Lent I’ve ever used. The book is designed exceptionally well, with tons of great art to contemplate as you read the meditations. This is an excellent idea for those of us who tend to have far too many words bouncing around in our skulls and can benefit from an exercise of quiet, non-linear resting in the beauty of images.

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Tuesday Confessional Booth

Tuesday Confessional Booth

As I had decided, I broke the fast on Sunday. To my relief — and also to my regret! — I didn’t go wild. A few Jelly Bellies (that was an accident; one of the kids put them in my hand while I was teaching and I popped them in my mouth), three Oreos, and a cup of my usual coffee-ish morning beverage (Maxwell House International Coffees Orange Cappuccino, which is more sugar and creamer than coffee) after my post-church nap. No binging on sugar; not even dessert after every meal, as I had planned. I regretted that a little on Monday when I was in Whole Foods and could smell chocolate and baked goods everywhere.

Yesterday’s breakfast (which is what the photograph shows, although it’s not the best photo) was Root Vegetable Hash (parsnips, carrots, shallots, nitrite-free bacon, and yummy spices) with two eggs. I would have told you I didn’t like parsnips, but they were quite good. I think my tastebuds are all freaked out. They’ve forgotten their clear preferences.

Confession: I had candy on Saturday. Not just candy: a whole Snickers bar with coffee. I didn’t crave sugar so much as I desperately wanted to wake up; I was so sluggish. Magi wasn’t home, and I was a little aimless. Nothing like chocolate and coffee to wake me up! Then Sunday arrived, and the temptation was to say, “No, you don’t get to break the fast, since you cheated yesterday.” But cheating *yesterday* has nothing to do with the feast day; it’s like saying, “I’m not going to celebrate the resurrection because I ate chocolate yesterday.” or “No communion for cheaters!”

Definitely feeling ready to incorporate the other two elements of the usual Lenten discipline. The usual three are fasting (check), prayer (hmm; half-check?), and almsgiving (giving to those in need). After a week focused on getting through each day without sugar, I realize that all the preparation I did was in regards to the fast. My best spiritual retreats involve equal preparation for prayer and almsgiving.

Today I will plan for Week Two, and decide how to incorporate the prayer and almsgiving into Lent.

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Every Sunday a Feast

Every Sunday a Feast
Icon of the Wedding at Cana

March 8, 2014

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Matthew 9:14-15

Most people who undertake a Lenten fast pride themselves on complete abstinence from Ash Wednesday until Easter. However, Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, and so Sundays are always considered “feast days,” or “festival days” — the opposite of fast days.

I think it’s a good idea to break the fast on Sundays; notice I said that people “pride themselves” on their total abstinence. There’s a problem, right there: the Lenten fast becomes a good work and a source of personal pride. Breaking the fast on Sundays does two things: it acknowledges that Sundays are, indeed, days to celebrate and thus feast; and it also helps curb spiritual pride, which is not only one of the most obnoxious forms of pride, but perhaps also one of the most dangerous.

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Dessert Friday!

Dessert Friday!

March 7, 2014
I certainly deserved something yummy today.

It was a long and satisfying day — All Saints’ hosted the World Day of Prayer, a service written by women in Egypt, and then we had a lovely reception with cookies, cookies, brownies and cookies. I brought cheese and crackers, and had plenty of cheese and crackers . . . er, cheese with cheese on top. Good day, but long and complicated, and I definitely deserved a treat. (If you’re at all familiar with the Enneagram, that’s completely true to type for me! The problem is that I always deserve a treat!)

After dinner I had a lovely banana split . . . wait . . . I meant lovely creamy Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s with a not-quite ripe banana and almonds. It tasted as good as a banana split to me. For this three-week segment using the 21-Day Sugar Detox program, I’m eating full-fat dairy. I don’t think I ever had full-fat Greek yogurt before. It’s amazingly delicious!

I also realized (again) how much I think about food. I save my one daily piece of fruit for after dinner because I’m convinced that if I eat it earlier in the day I’ll suffer after dinner. And suffering is bad, right? Well, as my sister Ellen commented, all the main religions encourage some sort of fasting; I don’t believe the point is to cause suffering, but to periodically step away from whatever we’re attached to, whatever pulls us away from the Real, from God, from our deepest desires. And letting go of attachment usually entails some suffering.

Let me remind myself why I’m doing this: I’m doing this because in the past I have tended to eat treats when (1) I’m hungry, (2) I’m bored, (3) I’m cranky, (4) I’m uncomfortable in any way, (5) I’m thirsty, (6) I’ve had a good day, (7) I’ve had a bad day, (8) I have too much work to do and can’t figure out what to do next, (9) I just did a lot of work and deserve a break before I figure out what to do next, (10) something with sugar crosses my line of vision . . . .

I’m grateful for abundance, but abundance run amok is disordered, and so this Lent perhaps I will, with God’s help, restore a little more order in my life. Although if the Holy Spirit wants to shake things up with some holy disorder, that’s OK with me. But don’t quote me on that; the Holy Spirit might be listening!

Feliz jueves*

March 6, 2014

Oh, it all sounded so adventurous! I cleaned out my cupboards a week ago, putting all the stuff I won’t be eating way back in the pantry room. I did my shopping. I made sure I had the first three days of food on hand. I didn’t print out the daily log, but I can do that part later. 

But yesterday was a rather long day, culminating in the beautiful and reflective Ash Wednesday service. And today I’m just pooped out. I feel sleepy and logy and cold. I guess when we change the sources of energy our bodies run on it takes some adjustment time. I don’t crave anything — but I’m also not as prayerful and present as I had hoped. OK, I don’t feel prayerful and present at all. This is another point, when fasting, that I tend to start backtracking: “See! This isn’t helping my spiritual condition at all! I’m just tired and grumpy and unmotivated. Fasting is DUMB! It’s just spiritual calisthenics, a big ego trip.” 

Nevertheless, I ate a good breakfast again and, although I really didn’t feel like it, went off to my Spanish class. (“?Como éstas?” “Mui BLECH.”) Then Thursday Bible study; I always prepare lunch, and they had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, while I had salmon salad wrapped in romaine. And tonight, cranky as I am, I made the labor-intensive meatloaf recipe, with two grated carrots and a grated red bell pepper (never again! never again! grating bell pepper is a nightmare!). So I guess it’s all OK.

If I’m willing to consider my past experience (the option being grumpy whining), the prayerful presence and groovy spiritual goodness I seek seem to come after I persevere and let my body adjust to change. So . . . “?Como estas?”  “Asi, asi, gracias.” And tomorrow is another day. 

*Happy Thursday

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Day One: Breakfast

Day One: Breakfast

March 5, 2014
Buffalo Chicken Egg Muffins from The 21-Day Sugar Detox

I don’t plan to publish photos of everything I eat for the entire duration of Lent; it feels a little off to publish just one photo on one of the few true fast days observed in the Episcopal Church. But today I’m feeling a little self-obsessed. (And the muffins are really good, too!) This always happens when I fast: I think, think, think. I think about whatever I’m ‘releasing’ for the time period (all food, criticism in thought or speech, fiction, sugar, meat) — like, this morning on my way home from the dentist I really wished I had time to stop at a coffee house and read a little bit of Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books; of course, then I thought about how coffee houses aren’t just about coffee, they’re about the hot beverage, plus the matching croissant or pecan bun or (my favorite, as Magi knows) some nice little lemon cake. Thought: “I only just discovered the first decent croissant I’ve had in the entire decade I’ve lived on the East coast!!! I should’ve had two!” And those thoughts are generally followed by thoughts about how fasting causes me to be self-obsessed so it’s probably a stupid thing to do, and besides, I’m sure I’m really trying to lose weight . . . . Those thoughts will settle down, if my experience over the past 20 years is any gauge. And then they’ll pop up again.

Here’s how the Book of Common Prayer invites us all “to the observation of a holy Lent,” in the Ash Wednesday service, a good primer on the disciplines of Lent:

“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentant and faith.

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.” BCP, 264-265

“Is this a Lent thing, or is this a diet thing?”

March 4, 2014
My good friend Liz asked me this question the other day: “OK, is this a Lent thing, or is it a diet thing?” Her question inspired this blog.

A few months ago I decided to quit sugar during Lent. Which begins on Ash Wednesday. Tomorrow.

“Giving something up” was my childhood Lent. And, like New Year’s resolutions, the shelf-life was pretty short. Adult Lent is about stripping away that which is unnecessary, clearing out a little space in my head, heart and body; adult Lent usually means some sort of additional spiritual discipline rather than getting rid of something.

But this year’s decision to spend a sugar-free Lent (free of a bunch of other things, too, as it turns out, at least for the first three weeks) is motivated more by spiritual impulse than an impulse to improve my health, look great, lose weight, etc. Sure, I’d like to be healthy, look good, maintain a healthy weight; but that’s not why I’m engaging in my sugar fast.

I’m addicted to sugar. I’ve been addicted to more harmful substances, so I understand addiction. And my working definition of addiction, at least this Lent, is “anything that diverts my attention from God,” or “anything that distracts me from what’s real.” Sugar has become a major distraction in my life.

For the first three weeks, I’m using a plan, The 21-Day Sugar Detox program; there’s a book, and a Facebook page, and it seems like a wholesome, sensible way to do this. Plus, it gives me a to-do list every day, which is good. This is scary for me; I’m afraid I’ll feel terrible and be cranky and find out that I don’t trust God. The antidote, as I see it, is to jump in and do it. Lots of planning, prayer, and as much presence as I can muster. (My husband Magi reminds me that failing to plan means I’m planning to fail; so cliche . . . so true! So I’m doing a lot of planning.) Mainly, though, I want to pay attention to my body; pay attention to my heart; pay attention to my thoughts.