Pair o’ Ducks

When I left Poland and came to Pennsylvania in 2015, I stopped taking pictures. I gave away my little digital camera because why would I need it anymore? Over a year later, I got my first smart phone, but even then I didn’t use the camera except when I went overseas.

My camera use and my minimal pictures indicates how I saw my States-side life. It wasn’t worth documenting or noticing–not compared to my colorful students and the old world charm of Europe. I have megabytes of photos from there, but not from here.

This summer will mark seven years since I left Poland and came to the US for one year, which stretched to now. I still scan the horizon and the road sides and trees and food for photogenic moments, and I rarely find something to document.

I can hear howls of protests from readers who love their home state, and I concede that my few pictures reveal more about my poor vision than about the world I live in now. The beauty of this blog is that no one pays to read it, and if my dismissal of the USA offends you, stop reading here.

Stephan Gingerich spoke at REACH about Third Culture Kids like me with excellent insight and advice. He said those of us who return to our passport country should be quiet for two years, and I’m sure he’s right. I bite my tongue every day to stay quiet about another life and another world that I know and love. But indulge me for a minute while I list things in America that make me cringe and want to be a million miles away.

  1. People put sugared, candied nuts on salads. This is a grave confusion of the proper place of sweets and savories. Salads are for any kind of crunch and textures and colors, but they are to be strictly savory, not sweet. Mixing candied, caramelly nuts is offensive to the character of the bright flavors of cheeses, garlic, and herbs. Along the same line, people bake ham and cheese sandwiches doused with a syrupy mixture with poppy seeds. The first time I had this, I honestly thought the cook was serving us a mistake. Now I know they have recipes for this, and I can’t imagine a poorer use of calories.
  2. I opened a fridge door recently (not mine) and saw not two or three, but FIVE different flavors of coffee creamers. This baffled me on several levels, not the least of which: how is dairy-free, artificially-flavored so wonderful? I wondered if five in a fridge indicates the next level of entitlement and it also reminded me of how incredulous I was when I first saw the rows and rows, shelves and shelves of creamers at Walmart.
  3. To kneel for prayer in traditional Mennonite churches, people whirl around, half standing, half crouching, and put their faces into the place they were just sitting. It’s awkward and illogical and embarrassing for anyone unfamiliar with this tradition. Why not gracefully kneel forward and lean your elbows on the seat back in front of you? I cringe for the visitors most of all.
  4. People talk SO LOUD on their phones and at restaurant tables.

Sometimes I catch a whiff of loveliness, a view that takes my breath away. It took me a long time to look past my bias against the US and recognize beauty here. People might not be as whimsical or colorful as my English students, but I meet gifted, passionate, fun people here. They tell me their big, beautiful, impossible dreams and stories of healing and generosity that remind me that Aslan is on the move here and life is wonderful and worth celebrating here.

Last summer I was gifted a missionary debrief retreat. Those sessions helped me start to acknowledge and name the vast chasm that spans the various worlds I’ve lived in. In many ways, I’m living my best life now, but I still cry from the losses of my former life.

The retreat leaders had a word for this: paradox. This word gave me permission to hold opposing realities simultaneously.

During the first evening of the retreat, each of us was given two rubber ducks and a Sharpie. We were told to mark up one duck. I eagerly and generously covered one duck with stitches and a black eye and broken heart and bruises. He’s the yuck duck and the other is the yay duck, and I hold them both in one hand. Both yuck and yay are true and real at the same time.

Because I tend to live in an all-or-nothing mode, and because I love tactile lessons and puns, the pair o’ ducks gave me an enormous step toward wholeness. Now I recognize paradox in many places. And instead of rushing to one of two opposing views and camping out at one place, I slow down and recognize that both the yuck and the yay are here, and neither of them ignores or denies the other.

I can’t tell you how freeing this concept is for me. I see paradox in people, how we’re all beautiful and broken. I see paradox in events or situations, and the blend of terrible and wonderful. As a TCK, paradox gives me permission to love the present while mourning the passing of the past.

The Apostle Paul lived with paradox too. In II Corinthians 4, it’s like he’s holding his own pair o’ ducks.

I may never completely settle in the US or come to peace with plastic creamers and startling traditions. But my ducks remind me that not everything in Europe was yay, and there is wonder and joy right here. The ducks are odd desk ornaments but I have a hunch they’ll sit here a long time.

 

The Most Important Thing

Photo by T. Kaiser on Unsplash

Back in December, I spent two weeks volunteering with ARC in Wisconsin. I went with a teen girl from church, but didn’t know any of the 20+ other volunteers when we got there.

At the end of the first week, we were in the food line at Sunday dinner and apparently some of them had been talking about me because one of the girls said, “Anita, I’ve been with you this whole week and I didn’t know you wrote a book!”

Her surprise amused me, and I shrugged. “Well, it’s not the most important thing about me.”

She didn’t miss a beat. “So what IS the most important thing about you?”

I was spooning gravy onto meat as she posed this question of shattering, earth-shaking import. We don’t plan these things. We can’t anticipate all the wonderful, unpredictable questions and conversations that pop out of nowhere and lead us to new discoveries.

“Hmmmm. The most important thing about me,” I slowly restated her question, “Is that Jesus loves me.”

It was a Sunday school answer, but I knew in the deepest part of me that this was the highest, widest, most wonderful reality about me.

Saying that wonder out loud—being asked to say it out loud—was an enormous gift my new friend gave me.

We women are too good at comparing ourselves with others. Depending on the day or the mood or the neighbor at hand, we give in to believing lies about our incompetency and superiority.

And it makes us shriveled and wrinkled and ugly. (Some wrinkles come with years, but that’s another subject.)

Inferiority and pride make us touchy and snippy and territorial and does nothing for us.

Have you noticed how a bride glows? She may or may not have the prettiest face, but her eyes and her smile tell us she knows she’s chosen and loved, and she isn’t crippled with needing anyone’s approval except her groom. 

Brides glow because they know they’re loved. Have you seen how love is a wonderful beautifier?

I wish we wouldn’t think “Jesus Loves Me” is a children’s song. I wonder what would happen if we would sing it every Sunday, all together, loud, as if we mean it and are over the moon excited about it. 

The most important thing about us has never been how much work we get done, or how little money we have. Or the way we do or don’t stay up to date with clothes and décor and hobbies and child training and world news.

When comparison stops, the game is over. The important thing stays the most important thing and nothing else matters.

The most important thing about me is not which of my spiritual gifts people see, or how much I’ve been hurt. The most important thing about me is that I get to be one of billions of people that Jesus loves wide and deep and long. If I could see Him, I would see the glint in His eye and I would see that He likes me—and not just me, but all of us—regardless of how cool or uncool anyone is, and that is the best, most important, glorious thing in the world.

Why I Read Novels

Last Saturday night, my friends at The Curator asked me to roundtable a discussion on Why I Read Novels. It was a fun thing to think about and organize some of my scattered, simple thoughts about it. Here are some of the ideas I put out there.

Kafka said, “We ought to read only books that stab or wound us. A book must be an ax for the frozen sea within us.”

Well. I agree that books can uncover what’s inside us, but I don’t read books to be stabbed or wounded.

On the other hand, Flannery O’Connor said, “People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.”

I agree with Flannery. Hope is a rare treasure these days, and reading and writing can be acts of defying cynicism and despair, because words can declare truth and light beyond the present.

In The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs writes, “It should be normal for us to read what we want to read, to read what we truly enjoy reading.” He expects, of course, that we want to read what is true, good, and beautiful.

Why I Read Novels

  • For pleasure and whim, as Alan Jacob’s book encourages.
    • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
    • Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry
    • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • For curiosity and vicarious experience. I read a lot of memoir and biography for the same reasons.
    • Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi
    • We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
    • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
    • A Father’s Tale, Michael O’Brien
    • The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
    • Still Alice, Lisa Genova
  • Because I like the author’s voice and skill with words
    • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
    • Island of the World, Michael O’Brien
    • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
    • Gilead, Lila, Home, Jack, a series by Marilyn Robinson
  • They help me understand the marginalized and characters I don’t usually cross paths with.
    • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
    • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
    • A Man Called Ove, Britt Marie was Here, both by Fredrik Backman
  • Novels give words for a common experience and understanding, such as eating the fruit in Perelandra or when the children shook snow off their boots and coats in the Narnian beavers’ house.
  • Novels give shape and color to important values and ways of living.
    • Strangers and Sojourners, Michael O’Brien
    • The Shepherd’s Castle, The Baronette’s Song, The Fisherman’s Lady, The Curate’s Awakening, George MacDonald
    • The Dean’s Watch, Green Dolphin Street, Elizabeth Goudge

How I Read Novels

Books are for seasons. I tried four times to read Gilead, and gave up. It moves very slowly, like all of Marilyn Robinson, and never suited me, until, in the right season, my mind slowed down enough to savor the message, and I could take it in and love it. To read the emotionally grueling but deeply impactful Island of the World, I need to be in the right season, which probably happens roughly once every ten years. (I also felt like I needed a support group as I read.) If everyone around me enjoys a novel but I don’t, this might not be the season for it. (Except for WWII novels, which have no viable season for me.)

My friend Marlene introduced me to the idea of  “cluster reading” which I aspire to, and have only briefly dabbled in, and would love to do more. Read several books around one theme or time period from various perspectives. Last year my cluster reading was:

  • A Gentleman in Moscow
  • Agent Sonya (a biography)
  • The Brothers Karamazov (which I didn’t finish–yet)

Another idea for cluster reading could be:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Narnian (a biography)

How I Find Novels

Goodreads keeps my reading life organized, lets me see what friends are reading and what they’re saying about them. I write a review of most of the books I read, and friends can see what I put out there. I shelve books on To Be Read, Read, and Currently Reading. When someone recommends a book, I put it on my To Read list and don’t have to keep a mental list. I LOVE Goodreads! It’s an old app, loads slowly, and isn’t super user-friendly, but I still like it.

I get newsletters from my favorite contemporary Christian writers like Philip Yancey, Jen Pollock Michel, and Lore Ferguson Wilbert. Good writers are good readers, and when they recommend books that they’re reading, I listen up. I also watch what Christianity Today  says about the newest titles coming out.

I don’t know how many disclaimers I should make here. We all know there’s a lot of rubbish out there, and novels get a bad rap for being sensuous and escapist, because many are that. I try hard to not read any books I wouldn’t want to recommend to friends. There are too many good books out there to waste time on less than great stories.

Story is a powerful form of communication that can set a reader’s compass and turn them to a positive direction. Jesus must have thought so too. Reading a good novel is a way to engage in hope, declaring that today’s devastation is not the only reality and there good things to reach for. Truth, goodness, and beauty will always have the last word. Because of this, I believe good stories will change the world.

People of the Dash

I came home last night after two weeks of volunteering with Anabaptist Refugee Committee at an army base in Wisconsin. The base housed 13,000 Afghan refugees in August. Many have resettled, and approximately 6,000 are left and hoping to be resettled in their new homes by the end of February.

It was a wonderful two-week stint, spending time with these beautiful, brave people who have lived through more devastation than anyone should have to, and who are attempting to start a new life in a new country. I lost my heart to the children and teens, so lively, so bright, eager to learn, respectful. I wonder what schools they’ll land in, how much support they’ll get, and if they’ll come to love this new world.

If you or someone you know can spare two weeks between now and the end of February, and can comply with the newly-mandated vaccination needed to work with refugees, consider applying now with ARC!

I wrote this poem months ago when I first heard the term “people of the dash” but I feel it more deeply now. This post has no pictures because it’s illegal to share them publicly. But I saw people who looked like relatives of the sad, beautiful Afghani girl in famous National Geographic cover photo. Their effortless beauty and liveliness took my breath away.

People of the Dash

Iraqi-Yezidi.

Ukranian-Polish.

Afghani-American.

People-of-Care from Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar.

People of the dash

Live between worlds,

A hyphen of time without home.

 

Stories of full lives behind

And hope for life ahead

Are the only sure things they own.

They exist on the cramped short line

Between empires with tapestries of legends and lore and

Today’s mercy (or none)

Of authorities who speak a new language:

Food line. Documents. Tent. Blanket. Permission. Quiet. Stop.

Their sleep cracks with violence and staggering loss.

 

O Jesus, Man between worlds

Who also had no pillow,

How long until the crescent wave of your justice

Washes this groaning globe

And ushers your beautiful, broken people of the dash

To their long home, carrying their spangled splendor?

 

How long, dear Jesus,

Once homeless God-Man,

How long can you wait?

Advent Jewels

This gentle turning of the season into gray and cold and sometimes snow has been lightened now with words and music and berry trees. I want to share the wealth, be the town crier, tell you about the gems that sparkle for me. If they don’t shine for you, it’s ok. Words, and songs, like books, are for seasons that are not always now.

Poetry
These mornings, I’m paging through Circle of Grace by Jan Richardson: a book of blessings for the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Epiphany. I find the verses thoughtful, infused with Jan’s experience of deep grief and hope.

I come back again and again to this favorite from Malcolm Guite: “O Emmanuel.” Guite plays with words and allusions with holy playfulness. The layered meanings of each word and line slows me down and fills me with awe at his skill. My favorite line is the second line: O long-sought With-ness for a world without. I love hearing artists talk about their work, and this podcast on Spotify has the author reading all seven of his Advent poems and some of the backstory of each. Go to 30:00 to hear him read this one:

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

Music
While I love all the carols of the season, (not the chintzy songs about chestnuts or holly!) Advent songs meet me right now like nothing else. I’d like to sing #121 in the Mennonite Hymnal every Sunday: “Comfort, Comfort Ye, My People.” For the glory of the Lord now on earth is shed abroad/And all flesh shall see the token that His word is never broken.

Two pieces on repeat these days:

  1. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Voces 8.
    LIsten to the long, plaintive first “O,” how the tenor voices shimmer throughout the song, and the strong, desperate quality of the voices calling.
  2. “O Radiant Dawn” by The Sixteen
    I heard this live twice last week, and each time, I couldn’t stop the tears. It’s raw, longs for light and justice, and calls COME because there’s nothing else to say.

Art
A friend gave me this card, a painting by Liz Hess, because she knew I’d like it. I keep it on my desk because so much love how the kings of the earth are bringing their glory to the lion and the lamb at the manger.

Last year pastor John showed me what he was making for his daughters and I was cheeky enough to say I’d love one too. Soon one morning, I found this on my desk and of course I cried. I love its simplicity and these days, Mary’s arms are empty.

Blog post
Every year about this time, I reread and share this blog post by Lanier Ivester. I found it years ago during an especially dark season, and it gave me hope and light and a giant shift in perspective.

The sorrow had just never been so tangible, so odiously unavoidable. And my thorn had such an ugly name: Barrenness. It takes a good, stout Old Testament word to express the arid disgrace of it: the Bible is painfully good at looking things in the eye and calling them what they are, and those first faithful ones certainly knew a desert when they saw one.

The blog post also introduced me to the beautiful words attributed to Fra Giovanni in 1513: There is glory and beauty in the darkness, could we but see! And to see, we have only to look.

Advent is a season of waiting, watching, preparing. We light pink and purple and white Advent candles every week, and we wait for many things but I often think we know nothing of waiting like the Jews did for their Messiah and deliverance, or like refugees wait for their papers. But we still wait. The whole earth waits, weeping for justice and goodness and beauty.

This year, more than I could last year, I can enter into the season of hope in waiting. I’m ready for light to seep up from the horizon, ready for smiles to grow strong and confident, ready for faith to become sight. Ready.

Life is for Living

I was always going to write a book, but this one wasn’t in the plans. I thought I was going to write about an American Mennonite’s experience of living in Ireland, but I don’t think that one’s going to ever make it, which is very ok.

I remember hearing about a girl who was planning her wedding but her sisters (older and younger than her) could hardly be civil to her, consumed with their losses and desire to be brides. I felt sad for them, knowing some of their pain, but I felt strongly that they weren’t on Earth to be bitter about what they didn’t have.

What IS our greatest purpose? What ARE we here for?

If it’s to be happy brides and wives, some of us have failed our purpose.

If it’s to love and worship God, that option is open to anyone, anyone.

That was my driving motivation in writing the book: what were we created for, and how can we enter into it now, without a romance story? I wrote out of my experience and my hope. I wrote about what I knew and dreamed of. Looking back now, I think it was kinda audacious of me to start writing a book at age 30, and parts of it seem chirpier than I am now, but the premise hasn’t changed.

We were created for a vast, endless, creative love, and there’s no limit to entering into it and letting it transform our lives.

I wrote for singles ages 20-30 because that’s what I knew and had experienced. But often moms and pastors’ wives come up to me to say how the book meets them. I’m deeply honored that they read it, and am learning not to be surprised that it connects with them because we are, all of us, living in Plan B. None of is now where we thought ten years ago we’d be, are we? Unless you’re sitting at the same place you were, eating PopTarts™ slathered with marshmallow creme.

It seems that living well means figuring out how to thrive in Plan B. I’m still learning, steadily by jerks.

Singles don’t have a monopoly on disappointment, ambiguous grief, or unrequited love. We don’t suffer more than others, but we do live with a specific loss that deserves some attention sometimes.

You’ve probably heard a talkative mother say she was never going to marry, but here she is, with a house and family because some man came out of nowhere and swept her off her feet. She’s grinning as she says it, and people chuckle. She’s allowed to joke about her Plan B.

But a single lady isn’t allowed to say she was never going to be single at 26 or 46, but here she is, all dressed up with no date. Her Plan B is real, but not one people chuckle about.

We’re ALL in Plan B and for some it’s socially acceptable to talk/groan/chuckle about it, and for others of us, it’s not something we bring up at a fellowship dinner table.

I hope my book provides a safe, understanding place to name the Plan Bs readers find themselves in, and that it gives them ways to look at themselves, the future, and God–our generous, wise, gentle, lavish Creator. The book is a practical, realistic invitation to the love and worship we were all created for. My premise is that we thrive when we enter into that love and worship.

Gearing up for Cyber Monday, you can buy a digital copy of the book on  Amazon or hard copy here at Christian Learning Resources.  Under the banner of my blogsite’s home page, click on the book title and find the drop-down list of each chapter and you can read the first page of each. After you read it, I’d love to hear what you think!

Feasting

Photo by Oksana Melnychuk on Unsplash

Linens, candles, clink of cutlery and pottery

Paint an impression of uncounted sweet,

Friendly, nostalgic feasts

Around tables.

 

Winks, questions, stories, guffaws, songs

Stay with me much longer

Than pasta, mousse, exquisite blends

Of textures and vibrant flavors.

 

Welcomes, farewells, celebrations

Circled around platters, friends, neighbors,  strangers,

Centered for one thin slice of time

Then scattered.

 

The guests and palates changed

At every year and table,

Warming, filling, nourishing me still

At tonight’s solitary soup.

Something Bigger Going On

 

Photo by Brent Ninaber on Unsplash

You know what it’s like to listen to a new piece of music where there’s dissonance and crashing, and you think “I’m not enjoying this. Where’s the fast-forward?”

Sometimes I go to the next piece on the playlist, but sometimes the crashing is happening in a favorite piece like Beethoven’s Ninth, or Dvorak’s New World Symphony and I know I have to ride out the harsh parts until they resolve again and go back to the strong, secure lines I love so much. I can endure the crashing and screeching places, the lines where I’m tempted to click “fast forward” because I know there’s a symphony going on here–something big and glorious and well-designed and it’s not going to keep crashing for the next hour.

These last months, I keep thinking the same thing about life and me and the world in general: there’s something bigger going on here. Let me hold still  and breathe deep and wait out this crashing and banging because it’s going to come to something.

When I sit at the east window every morning, the sun rises further south every day, marking a smaller arc. Sunlight is scarce, weaker than it was two months ago, and I want to cry about the gray days. Right now the sun looks like it’s fading away to the edge of the horizon forever. But there’s something bigger going on. Spring is coming even though it’s six months away. This is seasons, and orbits, and summer comes again.

Animal babies become independent of their parents within a year of being born. But human babies die if no one sees after their needs for years. I cuddle a baby and wonder what God is up to in this little bundle of cuteness and helplessness. There’s something bigger going on here for their moms and dads–bigger than the sleep deprivation, illnesses, total dependence.

In relationships, one person deeply disappoints another, erodes trust. They limp toward forgiveness, slipping and sliding, lurching. There’s a bigger story arcing above them, another plot line they’re part of. If we could see the story line, the myriad intersections, the spiritual armies fighting, it would take our breath away.

I hear of accidents, crushing disappointments, crises that keep mounting and piling up, layer on layer of percussion and brass rising to shrill chaos, and will the crashing ever end? The Sunday school answer says that in the sweet by and by, everything will be ok, but I don’t want to wait that long.

The good Sunday school girl folds her hands  and quotes Romans 8:28 primly but do I?

Nope.

I howl around and panic and hyperventilate over everything that shouldn’t be this way and I simmer and fume and complain and look for a fast-forward button to pound.

But I’m trying really hard to learn to quiet down, step back, and look for something bigger happening over the din and the wrong.

What’s God up to here?

What’s the metanarrative, the story line arcing over this current heartbreak?

Where are the grace notes in the chaos?

If God’s doing something bigger here, how could I join Him in it? Instead of fighting it?

In any piece of art, zoom in far enough, see just a quarter inch of the colors and lines or hear just two measures of a line or read two lines from a story, and it looks like chaos, nonsense, accident. But there’s something bigger going on.

I think we’re not big enough to always know what the bigger piece of art looks like. Time limits us and space cramps us, and we are too small to see the end, the arc of the plot, hear the soothing cadence of the aria that’s coming.

Zoom out, sit still with the crashing rhythms and shades, trust the artist to put to rights what looks chaotic right now.

This is what I tell myself, what I believe deep in my heart is the truest reality even though I hate the current noise. This is not all there is, not all there will be.

Faith declares that what is not yet seen or heard is still true.

Love knows the artist’s heart is absolutely committed to goodness and beauty.

This is all I know, and for now, in the middle of the symphony, it’s enough.

Words When There are None

Screenshot from Every Moment Holy website

I don’t know why, but I usually have more words than one person needs. However, the supply comes and goes. At both tips of the deep lows and soaring highs that my personality tends toward, I have no words. Only tears or gasps, like last night on my walk when I saw the enormous orange moon slipping up from the horizon. Or in times of confusion and anger and sorrow. Or when I don’t know how to pray.

My culture came away from rote prayers, prayer books, and liturgy, ostensibly because we valued direct connection with the Holy Spirit, and I’m glad for that. I don’t like to be tied to a form that becomes hollow.

But in the cascading sorrows of this season, as well as the shimmering beauty that lingers, I found a place that has words when I have none. I don’t use the book every day, but I go again and again to the first volume of Every Moment Holy, and I sit with the words that remind me of simple truth, enduring safety, and the anchor of God’s sovereignty. You too? You forget too that something bigger is going on here, and God is still in charge of the world? Yeah, me too. That’s why I love this prayer book so much.

Sometimes I call it a prayer book for millennials, because it has a prayer for drinking coffee, a prayer when reading too much news, a prayer when seeing someone beautiful, a prayer when camping, a prayer before going on stage. One of my favorites alludes to a Narnian story: it’s a prayer when feasting with friends, and reminds us that eating together is an act of war. Yes! Count me in to fight the dark side by feasting together!

Screen shot of the Every Moment Holy, partial list of contents, vol. 1

Jesus countered the proud, public prayers of His day by telling us to pray secretly, and He modeled that in His solitary nights of prayer. For all of us individually, secret times of connection with the Father shape our character and anchor our public service. If we crowd out these secret moments, we lose way more than we can know.

Other places in the New Testament show God’s people praying together and collectively pushing back the dark powers around them. Humans are finite and limited and near-sighted enough that we forget the spiritual reality that shimmers beyond our sight. If we would see and hear what happens in the spiritual world around us, it would take our breath away.

I hold enormous comfort knowing the Spirit prays for me when I have no words. I also love using this prayer book, but I dream of these prayers printed and handed around small groups and church benches and Sunday schools all over the globe. The second volume is prayers about death, grief, and hope, which I don’t have yet, but seems appropriate and necessary these days.

Liturgy for a Time of Widespread Suffering

Liturgy for Embracing Both Joy & Sorrow

In collective prayer, we hear each other say the words we can’t string together, reminding ourselves of what is enduring, verbally expressing hope and joy and sorrow, and audibly saying words we know to be true even though we don’t feel their reality. We often do this unconsciously in songs. What if we would intentionally speak words together in prayer—words and phrases and silences we don’t have but someone else wrote for times like this?

These two volumes make lovely gifts. Here’s a short list of PDFs from volume two, but you probably should buy copies of both volumes for yourself and your friends.

Instead of God’s people being known for their suspicion and outrage, I long for God’s people to be known for their love and worship. To have child-like faith. To keep our faces turned toward the God who will one day right all the wrongs that rain around us. To instinctively reach for someone’s hand and pray for them or with them when we don’t know what to say.

Imagine if neighbors would say “Have you heard about their prayer meetings? Do you see how crazily they love those who disagree with them? They look like they have a shining secret! I wonder what makes them so gentle and beautiful?”

Imagine if prayers would be the words we’re remembered for.

A Dream of a Feast

Some years back, a friend took me to Gallery Row in Lancaster and I was delighted to find the galleries of Liz Hess and Freiman Stoltzfus next door to each other. Fun, fun!

Liz Hess is an artist who incorporates a red umbrella in many of her paintings. Her style is whimsical, fanciful, and worshipful and I like it a lot.

Frieman Stoltfus tends toward abstractions based on classical music, European architecture, Lancaster landscapes, and his Amish heritage. I love the emotions in his abstract paintings and the grounded, thoughtful, pointed ideas in his realistic work.

In that first visit, I saw a small print of his The Last Supper and I told myself that someday I want that in my house. I started following the gallery on Facebook, and loved all I saw, but never forgot The Last Supper. Several years later, it was August 2020 and somehow I knew that now is the time. I perused the website but couldn’t find the painting, so I contacted the gallery’s Facebook page to ask about it.

Bethanie, the gallery manager, answered quickly and said she can get it printed for me. Which size would I like? Plus, all the prints were 20% off that month!  It came soon in the mail, and I carried it around campus to show people what I was so happy about. I love it so much.

It would seem that its title is an allusion to Leonardo da Vinci’s i but I always want to call it the Wedding Feast or The Marriage Supper of the Lamb because that’s what it is to me.

It’s framed now, and in our kitchen. I love to have people look at it and I ask what they see. They always mention the diversity of skin colors, ages, and cultures. They see the cathedral effect in the background, the record player, and the abstract yellows. There’s both definition and mystery.

I love the Japanese lanterns in the trees, the way the people are leaning toward each other in open body language, the groom’s hands are inviting someone outside the picture, and the empty chairs say there’s room for more. And it’s a party! There’s music and cake, wine and candles, and the night is still young. The celebration is going to go on for a long time.

                   

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I get a little peek at this in real life, where there’s laughter, conversation, lights at dusk, diversity, music, and food. I have a palette of memories like this to treasure, a painting in my kitchen, and a great hope to live in.