hope and a habit

forced forsythia

Spring is finally unfolding here in Holland. Remembering the thrill of noticing nature’s first green-gold from a great big window on the sixth floor of the seminary library last spring, I have checked every day for one tiny green burst on some tree.

Thirteen days into April, nothing. Fourteen, this:

spring has sprung!

forsythia fork

In those rupturing buds, so much possibility! hope! promise!

So tied am I to seasons that the arrival of spring and the approach of summer always herald an opening in my spirit. My dreams grow. Days that seemed intolerable become delicious. And this year, knowing that we’ll be at Hope come fall, I can receive these seasons fully and freely. Oh, the books on my list! The mornings to be given over to writing! The prospect of someone I love dearly moving to Holland!

barely buds

IMG_3341

And after a long winter of not-writing, now writing.
Not much, yet.
Fifteen minutes a day, up from ten.
Piddling, really.

But I’m writing. And for the most part, it’s feeling better. Like I’ve moved from huff-puffing around the block to jogging a mile. Some days I still don’t want to write, but the momentum’s there. I can say with integrity that I’m writing.

lovage

peonies?

To keep us all from faltering, my friends Colin and Anna and I are meeting to write together and to hear each other’s writing. To encourage, mostly. Colin’s encouragement was this, wisdom from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life:

As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”

Everyone has their way of screwing up the courage to write. In our college writing workshop, Heather was always reminding us that we are made up of two parts, a half that wants to write and a half that doesn’t, and our work is to trick the half that doesn’t into writing. (If you’re wondering who she’s scolding in that most recent post, it’s us.) My friend Adam’s strategy is to picture writing like a jet ski, which, once you’ve fallen off, is much easier to climb onto if the jet ski is moving. Momentum breeds stability.

forsythia reflection

IMG_3306

I’m picturing the lion, wild and fierce, and determining not to let it overcome me. For two weeks, it hasn’t. One night, on my way to bed without having confronted the lion for the day, I checked my e-mail and found a note from Colin saying I had to write before I slept. He says I can’t skip a day for at least a month. Maybe two.

My methods of tricking the not-wanting-to-write part are varied: a timer, a notebook and sublimely silky pen, friends, metaphors, books on creativity, a writing group, and, most recently, Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing. A whole three days of spreading my arms wide and receiving whatever wisdom, spurring, and osmotic aptitude these writers had to offer. Twenty pages of notes trying to capture that wisdom, spurring, and aptitude. (Next time, I’m going to try sketchnoting.) A heart bursting with hope.

flowers

roasted apples

I want to tell you all about it! I wish I could recreate the conference and its effects on me. I feel wiser, spurred on, and more capable. I’ve decided to not be afraid of language, to use luscious words the way Amy Leach does, to explore metaphor, to write what I don’t know about what I know, to write a lot because there’s no end to the creative abundance in this world.

That whole weekend, I mulled, I simmered, I gushed and gobbled more. I buzzed from session to session, flitting over book tables here and there, finding quiet spaces to eat and sort everything out.

forsythia in the morning

forsythia in the afternoon

Meanwhile, the apples I had brought to snack on froze in the hotel fridge. And once removed, thawed to mush. Totally unappetizing. Fortunately, Molly came to the rescue with a roasted applesauce recipe that might’ve been the only way to salvage these sloppy, spongy apples. I only had five, but cored and quartered, they fit perfectly into an 8×8 pan and took just under an hour, giving me ample time to write. I need those clear wedges of time; writing is simultaneously delightful and difficult. It doesn’t always come naturally.

I need structure, discipline. I need to be forced sometimes. Even forsythia will bloom when it’s cold out. Give it a mug of water and a window, and here it comes!

forsythia blossom

on their way to applesauce

Roasted Applesauce

with thanks to Molly Wizenberg and Judy Rodgers

Spring is on its way! Apples are on their way out. This is the perfect way to send winter off with love.

as many apples as you want (at least a pound or two)
1/2 tsp. sugar per pound of apples
1/2 tsp. salt per pound of apples
1 Tbsp. butter per pound of apples

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Quarter and core your apples. I forgot to peel mine, which made them harder to mash into applesauce but added a delicious dimension. Do what you will.

In a baking pan—8×8 or 9×13, depending on the number of apples—toss them with the sugar and salt. Snuggle them against each other and scatter little bits of butter across the top. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’ve begun to soften.

Crank up the heat to 500ºF, remove the foil, and return the pan to the oven for another 10 or 20 minutes. (I had lots of bubbling juice in the bottom, which I poured into a cup before putting the apples back in to allow them to get dark rather than damp. I added this back in at the end.) When the edges have caramelized and the apples are browning, pull out the pan.

Use a fork or pastry cutter to smash the apples, or, for a silkier consistency, use a blender.

bliss and transfiguration!

rooting plants on the sill

“Sometimes I take a book of poetry because walking suits poetry.”
—Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I had lunch with my college roommate, Alissa, this week. She confessed that she had a hard time being still. She dances with a company in Chicago and between rehearsals and performances and teaching, she’s always on the move. How do you manage to be content with just reading or praying or sitting, Grace?

soaked millet

millet corn bread

I laughed. I’m just as much a busybody as she is. For exercise, I’ve preferred running to walking because it burns the calories more quickly and I can be on to the next thing. At work, I’m always sprinting from one meeting to the next. At home, dusting and tidying always prevail over reading. A free night? I’d rather call up a friend and fill the evening than stay home and be still.

But I did tell her that I’ve been trying to keep wide margins in my life, to preserve open spaces. I’ve been walking more lately. Every book I’ve read in the last year on creativity or writing recommends daily walks: everyone from the choreographer Twyla Tharp to Steven King, who was out walking when he got hit by a van (I’ll stick to sidewalks, thank you). Madeleine L’Engle always seemed to be walking.

My friend Josh once told me that he thinks even walking moves us too fast. Stillness, or at least leisurely ambling, is better. It allows us to take in more of the world. How will we notice the chives that are finally stretching through if we’re always dashing in and out of the house?

chives, finally!

a squirrel wants to live with us!!

Walking and sitting are useful habits for writers. In her book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland actually commends idleness—”long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering”—as a practice for writers and other creatives. She suggests simply sitting at least half an hour, although, she says, “two hours is better and five is remarkable and eight is bliss and transfiguration!” In that space, ideas are conceived, nurtured, birthed.

And walking: it’s hard to do much else when you’re walking, except perhaps learn a poem or talk with a friend. Notice the trees, the air, the cracks in the sidewalk. Slowness encourages attentiveness, and attentiveness begets creativity.

inside on a rainy day

the tassajara bread book

After breakfast yesterday, I got a text from Alissa: “Today’s rainy, rainy day is good practice for me to be content with ‘being’ and not going anywhere…!”

So, in the spirit of rainy days and just being, here’s a loaf of bread. Slow mixing, slow kneading, slow rising. Slowness for attentiveness. Slowness for creativity.

Take a nap while the sponge is developing. Take a walk during the first rise. Write during the second. Be idle. Be creative.

corn millet loaf

Corn Millet Bread

inspired by Edward Espe Brown’s The Tassajara Bread Book

Here’s a sunny, light loaf for a rainy, dreary day. We were making chili, so I wanted something reminiscent of cornbread; after fiddling around with two recipes from The Tassajara Bread Book, I landed on this butter-colored, millet-freckled bread. The millet is pretty crunchy, so if you want yours softer, consider cooking it completely beforehand or soaking it overnight. Otherwise, soaking it just before you bloom the yeast will do just fine.

A word about scalding milk: the original recipe calls for dry milk, but I wanted to use up the milk in our refrigerator. I did a little research because I’ve had trouble in the past getting milk-heavy breads to rise well. I discovered that scalding milk (heating it to 180°F) apparently denatures proteins that prevent gluten from forming. There’s no consensus on whether it’s necessary to scald milk these days because it’s already pasteurized, but I didn’t want a stumpy loaf, so I went ahead and scalded the milk. My loaves rose—hooray!

1 cup whole millet
1/2 cup very hot water

2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to just-warm
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1/4 cup (85 g) honey
2 cups (250 g) whole wheat flour
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. table salt
1/4 olive oil
2 cups (240 g) corn flour (I used masa harina, but you might try finely ground cornmeal)
1/2 – 1 cup (125-250 g) all-purpose flour for kneading

In a small bowl, pour 1/2 cup very hot water over the millet. Set aside. In a medium pot on the stove, heat the milk over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. When the milk has been boiling wildly for a few minutes—don’t let it boil over!—remove it from the heat and let it cool.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

When the milk is no hotter than 110°F, or warm but not hot, pour it into the bowl with the yeast and stir in the honey. Then stir in the 2 cups of whole wheat and 2 cups of all-purpose flour. With a wooden spoon, beat it about 100 strokes. Let the strokes dig deeply into the bowl and lift out of the dough to aerate it. Cover the bowl and let the sponge rise in a warm place (the top of your refrigerator, near a pot on the stove) for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, fold in the salt, the oil, and the soaked millet. Then add the corn flour and stir until combined. At this point, you can begin kneading with the stand mixer or by hand. With the mixer, knead for about 5 minutes. By hand, about 10. The will have a consistency somewhere between bread and corn tortilla dough. If it’s especially sticky, add up to a cup of all-purpose flour until it holds together. Leave the dough in the bowl and cover for 50 to 60 minutes until it has doubled in size.

After that rise, punch it down by pressing your fist into the dough about 15 times all over the surface of the dough. Cover the bowl again and let it rise another 50 to 60 minutes. If you’re pressed for time, you can omit this second rising, but you can expect a denser loaf.

Divide the dough in half, shape into loaves, and place in two greased and floured loaf pans. Cover and let rise 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the loaves for about an hour. When they are golden, remove them from the oven. Let them cool for about half an hour, then remove from their pans and cool completely. Serve with butter and honey alongside soup.

burrow deeper

cloud over little traverse bay

It ain’t spring, folks.

Though most of the snow has melted in our yard and garden and we can actually get to our car on the street without having to walk down to the corner and then wrap back toward the house, it’s still only 24º out there. Snowflakes were falling a minute ago.

petoskey marina

And while most of our friends and acquaintances have, at some point in the last few months, jetted south, toward heat and sunlight and the hope of summer, we headed north this weekend. Three and a half hours north, 10 degrees colder.

Our motto: To endure winter, burrow deeper.

airbnb bedroom

I remember Heather telling us, with all the force of Robert Olen Butler behind her, to go to our white-hot center and write from there. Don’t look away. Don’t avert your eyes. Keep looking, staring, peering deeper into the parts of you that need to be told but want to hide. Don’t let them hide. Face them. Follow them into their hiding places. Follow them to your white hot center.

I say: Do the same for winter. Go to the white (cold) center. Pursue that center with everything you’ve got. Don’t look away. Don’t escape to warmer climes. Dive right into this snow, this cold, this wind. It has something to tell you. It’s not done yet.

just begging for a nap

Let’s go there, Michiganders, to our cold white centers and not avert our eyes. Brace yourself and face the cold. Don’t flinch.

sunset in petoskey

I can’t decide if that’s poetic wisdom or if our trip to frigid Petoskey was good just because it made Holland, at 24º, seem a heck of a lot warmer. But I’m embracing winter. At least until April 1. Then all bets are off.

if i learned to like buttermilk

heather bouquet

I should learn to like buttermilk. It seems so elegant, so cultured. Essential for unfussy but sophisticated cakes. Rich in its simplicity.

I like it in things—baked things like cakes and pancakes, but I can’t handle it straight because I can’t get over the word curdled. The word sounds like it’s congealing right there in your mouth. Curdle. That flat, low-in-the-throat “ur.” And -rdle: girdle, curdle, turtle. Weird words. Lemon curd, too. It’s the most marvelous spread, but honestly. Curd?

oats soaked in buttermilk

now with butter

So, buttermilk: I never keep it around because of that terrible, sour combination of sounds, though now that I think of it, I haven’t actually tasted it straight since I was maybe ten, which isn’t a reliable guide for food preferences. In the meantime, I’ve come around to such basic things as onions and mushrooms (still a little squeaky-freaky raw), ketchup and salad dressing. Also ground beef in my tacos and cheese on my burgers. I even convinced myself to like plain whole milk yogurt, which has in fact turned me against thin, strawberry-flavored yogurts in cute packaging.

You’d think I could work up the courage to take on buttermilk. I do like it for baking, which is perhaps where my love can begin. Buttermilk transforms whatever it’s in into something magnificent—tender and sweet, tangy but not tart. I usually make do with lemon juice plus milk, which works alright, but ends up simply curdling (!) the milk without imparting any of buttermilk’s luxurious, tangy beauty.

spatula

pancake perimeter

If I learned to like buttermilk in its own right, it might earn a regular spot in the Claus fridge, one that would make it available for buttermilk baked goods all the time. Until then, I’ll do the lemon juice / milk trick or, on special occasions, buy it in small quantities, just enough for a recipe.

And these pancakes are a special occasion. They don’t need one. They make one.

They start the night before, preparing while you sleep to make your morning what I wanted that one to be. Perhaps because they’ve had the night to get a running start, they make good on their promise. These pancakes are buttery and hearty and delicate all at once. They take well to banana pieces or chocolate chips or blueberries. They suggest maple syrup but don’t require it. They love to be cooked in bacon fat and accompanied by bacon. They give an opportunity for buying a little extra buttermilk than necessary and learning to acquire the taste.

breakfast spread

Oat and Buckwheat Pancakes

adapted from Molly at Orangette

A while back, I substituted buckwheat flour for the all-purpose that the original recipe calls for, and I’m so happy I did. Buckwheat and oats complement each other, plus the buckwheat flecks the pancakes all through and gives the batter a lavender hue. If you don’t have buckwheat, use all-purpose or give some other whole grain flour a try.

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. table salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
butter or bacon fat, for greasing the pan
maple syrup, for serving

Before you go to bed the night before, stir together the oats and buttermilk in a large bowl, coating the oats well. Cover the bowl and leave it in the fridge.

In the morning, pull out the oats from the fridge and set aside to warm up. In a small bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Stir the melted butter and the beaten eggs into the oats. The butter will probably harden against the cold of the eggs and oats, but that’s okay. To that, add the dry ingredients, and stir everything until just combined. The batter is very hefty.

Melt a pat of butter or a spoonful of bacon fat in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. After a few minutes, fling a fingerful of water onto the surface of the pan. If it sizzles, the pan is ready. Pour the batter by the quarter-cup onto the pan. When the edges of the pancakes have started to turn lacy and set, flip them. The backs should be gorgeously golden.

Serve with butter and maple syrup. Makes about 15 pancakes.

a confession after romans 13

pinecones

Scripture tells us that the Word of God
is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing until it divides soul from spirit,
joints from marrow.

It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
In the light of this word, we are laid bare before God.

The good news is that the one to whom we must give account
is the same one who has died for us,
the same one who was raised,
the same one who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

So, beloved, let us approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help in our time of need:

Wise God,
you created the world in wisdom,
brought us forth from it,
and in wisdom, you set us within limits.

Yet we rebel.
We think we have no bounds.
We run wild, like prodigal sons and daughters,
refusing to heed you.

Silently we confess our rebellion and our foolishness to you.

. . . Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Loving God,
you created all things from the overflow of your generous heart,
and you ask us simply to love you
and to love each other.

Yet we hate.
We let bitterness grow,
we scorn you and slight our neighbor.
We break the law of love.

Silently we confess our hostility and grudges to you.

. . . Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Radiant God,
you wrap yourself in light
and banish the night with your very presence.

Yet we hide.
We prefer the darkness
and its reveling,
its drunkenness and debauchery,
its quarreling and jealousy.

Silently we confess our secret sins to you.

. . . Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Amen.

People of Hope,
we have entered the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,
by the new and living way that he opened for us.
He has given us a true heart in full assurance of faith,
sprinkled us clean from an evil conscience,
and washed our bodies with pure water.

You have been forgiven.
Now hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who has promised is faithful.

the noonday demon

ahh, bed.

Sometimes you just need a nap.

Which is apparently what I needed last weekend. After a long week and a late-night campus event on Friday, Dan and I had planned an unhurried Saturday breakfast, the slow sort of breakfast that we rarely make time for (although no one’s complaining about our usual toast or granola), a breakfast both savory and sweet, half eggs and bacon, half pancakes and syrup. I imagined a sunny Saturday, spacious and easy. No plans, except for breakfast. A day of rest and relief, a day of joy and peace.

embroidered seasons

Well, we made the breakfast—these heavenly, soft-scrambled eggs (watch the video; you won’t regret it), a strip of bacon apiece (all we had!), and banana chocolate chip pancakes, and then the day started to bear down on me. We proposed a few ways to spend the rest of our day, but I couldn’t handle them. Every idea seemed terrible, not what I wanted. They were perfectly reasonable ways to spend a Saturday, but I couldn’t manage to imagine them into my day. I cried. I was incapable of movement, decision, maturity. Everything was impossible.

I told Dan I was going back to bed. Maybe I could restart my day. I didn’t really believe it would work, but what else could I do? Sit at the table while my sweet husband cleaned up the kitchen and tolerated weepy me? Drag myself into some Saturday project that would almost certainly end worse than it began, which was already bad enough? Take a shower? Not yet—I wanted to go for a run first, though I hadn’t the energy.

So back to bed I went. Back to our new bed, I should add, a thick, pillowy, dreamy affair whose mere existence beckons. It’s hard to stay out of.

the cloister walk

Swaddled in down, I tried reading for a while. I’m midway through Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in preparation for her visit to Holland in March. Much of the book has resonated with me, but on Saturday, my eyes themselves glum, I found it hard to concentrate. I closed the book, rolled over, and let sleep carry me.

A hour or two later, I woke again. The sun was brilliant, filling the room with clean, happy light. Believing I should be refreshed, but feeling as listless as ever, I lay there. I couldn’t make myself move. I started to wonder—not worry, just wonder—if I was showing signs of depression: wanting to cocoon myself in bed, being unable to summon energy though the day itself was bright and sunny, feeling battered by merely the possibility of activity.

rumpled bed

Kathleen Norris speaks of something like this feeling in The Cloister Walk. The feeling of interminable, insufferable days, the weight of malaise, the paralysis of mind and body. Following the monastic tradition, she calls it the noonday demon. It appears at midday, in that harsh, direct light, and oppresses with lethargy. Acedia.

I turned over the possibility of acedia in my mind. Could it be? It wasn’t depression exactly. I hadn’t felt a full six weeks of low spirits, the measurement offered by the anti-depressant commercials on TV. But that one day! It was heavy, too heavy to endure. And it was long, too long to bear. It was noon, and the demon had come.

I rolled back over to sleep.

light through the curtain

A while later and I woke for a third time on that single day. The room, though bright, was too cold for me to leave the bed yet. I burrowed deeper into the covers. I still didn’t have much energy to read, though I tried. I coasted—that word that my grandma uses for the half-hearted drifting, the in and out from wake and sleep.

Somewhere in that swelling and ebbing, the thought may have come to me that though the noonday demon is real and powerful, it should not be coddled. I might not have the resolve to banish it entirely, but I didn’t want to welcome it, either. It was within my power to ask it to step aside. I thought I should probably go for a run. Running wasn’t what I wanted to do at the moment, but I knew that it would help push the demon from the living room to the entryway, and maybe eventually out the door. So I rolled, this time, out of bed, slipped into running clothes, and padded downstairs.

sunlight on the chapel

Dan, reading on the couch, greeted me. His voice had kindness in it, something I didn’t expect from someone whose wife had spent the morning grumpy and the afternoon asleep. I told him I was going for a run. He agreed that was a good thing. I tied my shoes and left the house.

The run didn’t need to be long to work its magic. A few blocks in, and the demon was on its way out. Maybe it was the physical movement, maybe it was the Romans 12 I recited as I ran, maybe it was nothing more than the fresh air.

dimnent chapel

When I arrived back at the house, I was eager to let Saturday be what it would. It may have been 4:00pm, but I was ready to start the day. In the exact opposite mood from the morning, I kissed Dan, showered and dressed, and then suggested we take cribbage to Lemonjello’s.

Strangely light, we practically floated there, ordered our drinks (free with our full punchcards!), spotted a table, and set up shop. After one hand of cribbage, our friend Ben came over and kept us company, entertaining us with his wit and running commentary. (We love you, Ben.)

hand of cribbage

We ended the day with stuffed shells, an episode of the West Wing, and the first half of Risk, a game whose length would’ve horrifed me 12 hours earlier but now excited me. I hadn’t played since fourth grade.

I want to say something profound about Saturday. I want to say it signaled a deep darkness in me that needed to be exposed and addressed. I want to say I overcame the demon. I want to make meaning from it.

evening game of risk

But I honestly have no idea. I have no idea what Saturday was. It was odd and disconcerting, but also hopeful. There was a demon, but it didn’t linger. Maybe I did just need a nap. Maybe winter has been too long and blinding stark. Maybe our bed has mystical powers. Who knows.

I do know that Dan deserves a thousand thank-yous for his grace and patience, and that demons aren’t exorcised by the strength of the person they inhabit but by the power of community—in my case, unwitting Kathleen, Dan who promises to love and to cherish, and hilarious Ben. We have one body but many members, and not all the members serve the same function. So we, who are many, are one body in Christ and individually are members one of another. Thank you, members.

yes, truly, with all my heart

pier on lake michigan

A week from Sunday, Dan and I will be ordained as Ministers of Word and Sacrament.

The prospect unnerves me a little, as many things do lately. These days, I am a small, injured creature, scared and sad, burrowing into my den to curl into myself. The winter days, which I do my best to celebrate, are unrelenting. It snows everyday. We shovel, but there’s nowhere to put it. In some places, we are literally up to our ears in snow. When the clouds broke a few days ago, I spent the whole afternoon gulping down its azure nectar. The next morning, dawn stretched its peach fingers over the house, giving me brief hope, and then was swallowed up in grey. How much longer can I hold on?

branch

My bones are winter-brittle, making it difficult to summon any kind of resolve or to look on things with hope. Ordination seems wildly impossible, the way a marriage does to one who knows human nature. Who can make these kind of promises? Who can say, “Yes, truly, with all my heart”? Aren’t we Christians well acquainted with divided hearts? We know its fickleness, the way it tries to deceive everyone within earshot, including itself. We know its indiscriminate affections.

brush on the beach

I feel the difficulty of that sort of wholehearted, lifelong promise especially because I’m absolutely nearsighted when it comes to life plans. I rarely set goals, not so much because I’m lazy but because I want to leave room for the unexpected. I’m not a go-getter; I’m not a reach-for-the-stars kind of person. My posture is one of reception: accepting what lands in my arms or on my path and folding it in. Ordination, though, demands that I commit myself to something decades down my line of sight. For heaven’s sake, I’m only twenty-five! Who knows what comes between now and death?

sand + snow

I’m laughing now, reading those paragraphs over, because I could as easily have written them about marriage. We are fickle. Our hearts are not pure. We recoil from commitment. Which is precisely why we make these absurd promises. If Dan and I hadn’t, we’d never have encountered the beauty and the blessedness that follows. Vows—marriage, ordination, baptismal—usher us into a space we couldn’t have entered any other way. They preserve that space, work to protect it from the unholy intrusions of the underbelly of the heart, the impulse to flee at the first hiccup, the sloth we receivers are prone to.

Recently I read (can’t remember where) that we don’t keep our vows so much as are kept by them. Vows keep us. Of course we can’t keep them on our own strength! That’s gospel truth.

light fixture

Which is why, I think, we don’t put the burden of the call on the ordinand. No one’s fool enough to believe that seminary graduates have the wisdom, foresight, and purity of heart to call themselves to ministry. God does the calling, and he does so by way of his church. The ordination liturgy asks, “Do you believe in your heart that you are called by Christ’s church, and therefore by God, to this ministry of Word and sacrament?”

Yes, in fact, I do. Over and over during our years in Holland, we have heard clearly the voices of our congregations, our friends, our mentors—calling us to this life work. So we’re not in this alone. The church has called us. The vows will keep us. The Spirit will sustain us.

reflection in a painting

The word ordain includes the meaning “to set (something) that will continue in a certain order.” By making these vows, we have been set onto a path. A path that has presented itself, a path that we can’t see the end of. But a path that promises grace we wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Lord, sweep us into the broad plain of ordination, and let us see you.

goodbye, december.

ice-glazed needles

Goodbye, December.

snow-laden branches

Cold December, snug December, dark and bright and gold December.

rosemaled ornament

Month of calm and month of flurry, month to wait and month to hurry.

persimmons

Days that narrow, wane, and taper, until they swing around and start to grow.

sifter

Month of hearty, month of stew, meals to sate and warm and soothe.

lefse-making

Now it’s over, now it’s done, now on to January: here we come!

walking through the woods

sabbath poem

jars on the counter

It took me several reads to notice that this poem ends in desolation. It doesn’t resolve.

But I live more Sabbaths like this than I care to admit, days that begin and end in turmoil for a hundred wicked reasons. Who among us is good at Sabbath-keeping? Even the Sabbath is touched by depravity’s fingers.

As I’ve been preparing a sermon on Genesis 1 and our care of the creation, as well as on God’s establishment of Sabbath rest, I’ve kept company with Norman Wirzba and Ellen Davis. They drive me back to good Sabbath practices, making me want to rest, for my sake and for the sake of my fellow creatures. So why do I so often fail?

I offer this poem to you as consolation if days like this pass as frequently in your household as they do in mine. And I offer it as one more reason to long for the coming of our Lord and not to give up at work and rest in the rhythm he has set for us. The spinning stars will thank us with their song.

Sabbath Poem V, 1980
Wendell Berry

Six days of work are spent
To make a Sunday quiet
That Sabbath may return.
It comes in unconcern;
We cannot earn or buy it.
Suppose rest is not sent
Or comes and goes unknown,
The light, unseen, unshown.
Suppose the day begins
In wrath at circumstance,
Or anger at one’s friends
In vain self-innocence
False to the very light,
Breaking the sun in half,
Or anger at oneself
Whose controverting will
Would have the sun stand still.
The world is lost in loss
Of patience; the old curse
Returns, and is made worse
As newly justified.
In hopeless fret and fuss,
In rage at worldly plight
Creation is defied,
All order is unpropped,
All light and singing stopped.

(This post is the final one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)

true light from true light

light through the curtains

The snow has been the primary light source in our apartment this past week. It reflects clean, cool light into the room, curbing my impulse to switch on all the lamps. All morning, I work in its diffuse glow, paying no attention to the flagging sunlight as the day wears on, continuing to read as the room dims and greys.

chester

The snowlight is deceptive. Radiance is the wrong word for it—too warm, too firelike. Instead, it’s a thin grey-blue light, like a standoffish cat. Like the moon. It brightens but doesn’t blaze. Winterlight.

And, as is always the case for me, it doesn’t suffice. Like the days, I start to wane; like the moon, I thin from quarter to crescent. I lose interest. Lassitude sets in.

kitchen cupboards

Generally, I resent my inability to persevere, to rally my weary spirits, to carry an extra measure of cheer. Why must I rely on the sun? I should be able to summon joy! vigor! I should be tough! I shouldn’t be so pitifully dependent.

Except maybe it makes me more aware of my dependence on the Light from True Light. I need light. I’m not independent, not able to rally, summon, toughen up. I am utterly dependent on the light. I cling to the light to live.

(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)

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