Sunday, November 4, 2018

Resting Prayer

This is the only modification I’m making to a talk I gave at the Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church’s women’s breakfast this Fall.  For those friends of mine who do not practice any particular faith or religion, for those who find meditation in nature or within your own interior calm, I believe there is still a message here for you.  Your desire for rest, your desire to experience alignment in your soul and body is the same desire people of faith experience when they seek their God in Resting Prayer.  I hope some of my words can bring freedom to your heart, but if there’s just a little too much #jesus, please simply read this as a window into my soul.  My journey has been rich with friends from many walks of life.  I appreciate you and your unique path.  I hope what I have to share will give you the nudge you need to seek rest, not as an indulgence, but as the most integral part of being grounded and centered in this life.   

JERUSALEM TO NAZARETH

I used to work in ministry: music ministry, youth ministry, hospitality, administration, behind the scenes work, and prayer, LOTS and lots of prayer.  I worked and lived in a Christian retreat center, and when we weren’t serving our guests, we kept prayer going in the sanctuary throughout the day.  We used the Psalms to cast our cares before the Lord, reciting them out loud, speaking scripture into every moment of our day.  From early morning until the evening I would pray in the chapel, work a couple hours, and then go back to the chapel to pray.  It was a rhythm that I came to love.  It was like I lived in Jerusalem, like Samuel in the temple.  

But then my life took a different path, and I left ministry, returned home to Connecticut, got married, became a mother, and found everything I understood about prayer and drawing near to the Lord to be challenged and nearly impossible to achieve.  In fact, I’m still working on getting the train back on the track!  I am no expert, and my gratefulness in being asked to speak with you this morning is largely because it has forced me to my knees many times in the past few weeks.  I have been inspired, re-inspired, and left humbled before the Lord who has trusted me to bring a word of encouragement to you today.

After becoming a mom, it became clear to me that my new life was Nazareth.  Follow me in this imagery.  I’m a writer, so I love speaking in metaphor.  I was flung from ministry, from Jerusalem, back to Nazareth.  How in the world could I pray when I was so far from the temple?  I used to know how to measure my exhaustion.  A long flight.  A busy week at work.  Then I became a mother and found I could not measure life in anything but NOW.  Now the meal, now the question, now the mess.

But my problem is still that the Now, the List, can bow my head down low both literally and metaphorically.  I can go hours without making eye contact with another human being.  I’m not sure if that’s impressive or just plain depressing!  At the start of this school year, my life was on a collision course with hitting the proverbial wall.  If it wasn’t for the need to prepare for this time with you, I’m not sure where I’d be.  One of my best friends lives in Maryland and is a therapist who works late hours.  We were trying to align our schedules for a phone call to catch up, and with me working early hours, it was practically impossible.  I texted her back that as much as I wanted to talk with her, my first goal was to make eye contact with my family!  Eye. Contact.  My eyes were literally buried in the LIST.

Oh, but there’s a fabulous app to help with this!  It’s called Wunderlist---and you can create a list for everything!  Right now, I have a list for movies to watch, ideas for the boys’ birthdays, menus, groceries, poetry ideas, travel ideas, gift ideas, meaningful quotes and scriptures that I want to reference at THIS breakfast.  Oh, this app is so important, I would pull my phone out during Pastor Scott’s sermons, because I didn’t want to forget to add another idea to the list! 

And I know I’m not alone in getting caught up in the list.  We women prize productivity.  In America, in the church, in the home, we find ourselves prizing productivity more than almost anything--as though we’ve welded it to the center of our Christian ethic.  We strive to complete the day’s goals, get ahead of the list, serve our families, our schools, our communities.  The Proverbs 31 woman, right?  

And my question is this: how often does this striving translate to our walk with God?  How often do we approach our quiet time with a list or formula like ACTS: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication, and we forget to stop and simply lift our eyes to connect with Him in stillness and love?  

If, in our everyday lives in Nazareth, we stay on this path of striving, we may very well enter the great and sacred realm of prayer with simply another goal, another list, another state of striving to achieve.  If we obsess or worship productivity, then the call to abide in Christ becomes a three credit course with assignments, a syllabus, a test.  We end up replacing “Abide in Christ” with “Achieve in Christ.”  We recite “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and forget about, “One thing I have desire of the Lord, that will I seek, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”  

Ah Psalm 27, what a beautiful scripture.  But it’s about the temple and we’re living in the always-someone-to-nurture corners of Nazareth.  Does it still apply?  Thank God it does!  For the Gospel is ALL about Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  It is about the Incarnation.  God with us.  God with us in the mess of Nazareth.  God with us in the sleepless nights.  God with us in the chronic pain, both physical and emotional.  What I am proposing to you today is the HOPE of freedom. Freedom from striving, freedom from looking for results, & freedom from the need to be perfect in prayer.


RESTING PRAYER

The heart of Resting Prayer can be summarized in three stages.  Seeing, Knowing, and Loving God, which (quite simply) is FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE.  Because of my tendency to become trapped with my head bowed low, transfixed on the list, I like to call the seeing step of Resting Prayer, the GAZE.  The term “gaze” is used quite often in the Bible to describe when someone’s sight is focused intently.  The psalmist speaks of gazing on the beauty of the Lord.  The disciples were seen gazing intently into the heavens when the Lord ascended.  This gaze is both passive and active.  It is the intention to see as well as WONDER in the Lord.  This is the heart of resting prayer, the first step, and it’s SO important to first emphasize that this gaze cannot happen if our head is bowed low in trying to meet the ever widening tumbleweed of needs around us.

You might be saying, “But Dacia, who else is going to do what needs to be done while I stop to Wonder at the Lord??  I’m carrying this on my own!”  Please hear me, what I’m presenting is not intended to ADD anything to your list, or make you feel you’re doing anything wrong.  This is about Freedom.

SHAME INHIBITS RELATIONSHIP

So, high-speed busyness and striving are not the only obstacles to Resting Prayer.  The other biggie is shame.  In fact, the striving to be productive can often be rooted in shame.  I want to share some of my testimony.  It’s an ongoing testimony, as is the case with all believers.  We come to a point of conversion and surrender to the Lord, but His work in our lives, His transformation of us, from day to day into His likeness, never ends.

I carry a core of shame deep inside me.  I have gone through incredible healing and overcome many of the symptoms of this shame, but I can honestly say it is a part of who I am that crops up here and there and will most likely always play a part in my relationships this side of glory.  This type of shame has been studied in both men and women and is the result of being abandoned by fathers at an early age.  Mine left me at age three.  This shame manifests as a chronic doubt in one’s value and abilities.  It leads to depression, and often eating disorders or obesity.  Some people call it the “Father Hunger.”  

For me, the chronic doubt in my value as a human being has led to the compulsive need to please anyone and everyone I meet.  It’s an EXHAUSTING form of striving.  As a little girl, one of the only places I found rest and unconditional love was in a simple 20 minute program I watched every afternoon on PBS.  Mr. Rogers--the most significant father-figure I had in my early childhood.

How many of you grew up watching Mister Rogers?  This man connected with and taught children through the most simple television program ever produced, other than, maybe, Bob Ross.  He made eye contact, spoke directly to the camera, and in doing so, assured the young viewers of their value each and every day.  

Mr. Rogers was all about connection and engagement.  When the world was speeding up, he was slowing down.  He prized slow space, but never wasted that space; he filled it with meaning.  He valued people.  He believed you didn’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.  He created a space where he and his viewer could simply stop and enjoy each other’s company.  Mr. Rogers taught me about about engaging, connecting, and being present in the moment.  He taught me about love and relationship, which, in a nutshell, is the entirety of PRAYER.

You can never go wrong with stopping and making eye contact.  When we stop to make eye contact, to SEE someone, we naturally slow down.  The all consuming list is upended when we stop to see.  Have you ever seen a child who knows they’ve done something wrong and they can’t make eye contact?  Well, the shame of abandonment does the same thing.  I spent the first 25 years of my life barely ever making eye contact with men, while my greatest desire in life was to be seen, to be known, to be understood, and to be loved.  It really hasn’t changed much, but now I often go about it in the wrong way, by taking the route of productivity as a means to be seen, acknowledged, and loved.  I am scarred, insecure, and yearning for love, but I’m learning the LIST NEVER SATISFIES.  

This is where my heart has been.  This is what is coming home to me in Pastor Scott’s sermons on building relationships through hospitality, through enjoying each other’s presence, finding our rest in Jesus, calibrating our prayer around God changing US…hasn’t this sermon series been particularly moving for you?   We, as a church, have a distinct need right now to connect and have relationships in a way that forsakes all striving, simplifies life, and rests in the direct gaze of one connecting with another.

HE IS PRESENT

So, the first step of Resting Prayer is stopping long enough to gaze at one another, lift our eyes from the list and from shame, and to gaze at the Lord in prayer.  But HOW do we gaze at the Lord in prayer?  By recognizing the presence of God and entering into the God-With-Us moments in FAITH.

How many of you have been in nature and were overwhelmed with the presence of God?  Not necessarily bowled-over, but you were suddenly STILLED.  I want you to hold onto that moment, because that’s where I’m going.  In order to approach the whole concept of Resting Prayer, we must be anchored in the truth of the presence of Jesus in our very lives.  When we connect with the truth of God with us, we can begin.  We can gaze at Him present in scripture, present in our worship, present in one another (for we bear his image), and reflected in creation which he wears as garment.  Psalm 104 says “He wraps Himself with Light as with a garment.”  I’m telling you, God’s got the greatest clothes!

I used to get depressed when I read about the Ascension of Jesus into heaven.  I always thought the disciples had the greatest gift of anyone who was born---they could walk and talk with Jesus, and when Jesus ascended a huge void was left in their lives.  But this abiding rest wouldn’t be possible if Jesus hadn’t ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.  Do you know that we are closer to Jesus than the apostles were before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?  We are intimately connected to the Lord through the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Jesus into our hearts, we are receiving His Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is that beloved grace we sing about, that grace working in us.  Our connection with Jesus is spiritual and intimate through the Holy Spirit everyday.  

Prayer is relationship, but that relationship begins with the faith of knowing He is real, His Holy Spirit fills us, and He is WITH US.  There are times I have struggled with my faith; I have doubted intensely the intimate nature of God’s love for me.  In order to hold onto resting prayer and the faith He is with me, in desperation I have visualized Jesus as a tired, ragged housewife, sitting at the kitchen table with me, sharing a coffee with me, and LOVING me in that very moment. Maybe that’s irreverent, but it brought home to me that God is with us in every stage of life.  The Gospels are testimony to that.  They don’t just feature Jerusalem.  They walk us through Gabriel’s message to Mary in Nazareth.  They take us to Bethlehem, the escape to Egypt, Mount Sinai, the sea of Galilee, the Via Dolorosa, and into the skies upon which the apostles gazed intently.  But friends, many, if not all of us are still in Nazareth and Nazareth can be daunting.  As I was typing this up, the next part came out like a poem, so I left it that way.

Nazareth.  Limitless needs.  Lists derailed by urgency.  Mouths open, prancing around my hips, begging for more while I scroll past posts on my phone, hoping for relief and connection.  I find a fleeting laugh, but I need a glance.  A gaze.  When I finally give this to the small ones in my care, pangs of love and regret wash over me for having given or not given it before.  Nazareth.  Dirt floors.  Cluttered corners.  The soul squeezed by plenty, too much, not enough.  Nazareth.  The scooping of soft faces, jagged toys, and half-dreamt dreams.  Nazareth.  The waiting for age to fill out and forget me.  Nazareth.  After the promise of Bethlehem, the protection of Egypt, you are the preparation for Jerusalem, for death and resurrection.  You are the place of work and rest, rest and work.  You are closeness.   You are simplicity.  A banquet of love in little things, everything for His glory.  Everything with meaning.  Everything touched by presence.

As a side note, when Mike and I got past our awkward phase of dating (because as many of you know - life with an extreme introvert can be QUITE awkward at first), one of our favorite things to do was look back and play “This is what I see,” or “This is what I remember.”  We would share what was really happening inside during all those stilted conversations or quiet glances.  This reflection was essentially a form of resting and engaging with each other’s true self.  When this type of activity is done with Jesus, through journaling, the writing of poetry, or simply prayers of gratitude, it becomes the fuel for resting prayer, it leads to adoration.

Sisters, take heart, what’s beautiful about resting prayer is there’s no waiting to arrive. You have arrived the moment you try.  There is no “2 weeks of hard work, don’t skip a day, and I’ll arrive.” No. You arrive every moment you attempt resting prayer.    You arrive with all your Nazareth mess, all your jumble, all the racing thoughts, all the head nods into dreamland.  You arrive every time you recognize, and adore, and PAUSE before the God With Us.

THE MOMENT IS ENOUGH

We’re almost ready to take the next step into Knowing, but it’s important to address a sneaky way shame can present itself as humility and be a huge block to intimacy with the Lord.  Resting prayer is not about reaching a goal.  It is about accepting the moment and acknowledging God’s unlimited love and mercy for you.  It is not about the rescue; it’s about relationship.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Gospel is all about being rescued from sin and death.  I’m not discounting that in anyway.  And there are times where focusing on self-examination and confession are critical for our growth in the Lord.  But when it comes to Resting Prayer, we need to avoid the endless confession of our sin.  That can be the result of intrinsic shame, and that can turn into striving.  That can be our pride or our control trying to make ourselves acceptable to the Lord, when His grace, His Holy Spirit is what makes us acceptable.  

In my walk with Jesus as a young girl, my intrinsic shame over my father’s abandonment translated to an obsessive need to confess my sins to the Lord.  I would write out Psalm 51 over and over again.  I was searching for connection with Jesus through confession.  As I grew older, I searched for connection through through intercession and worship, through the rituals of Sunday and daily scripture reading.  These connections DID take place.  They were sweet and nourishing.  But  my head was still bowed low in shame.  I did not feel I could merit even saying “I love you” to Jesus.  Who was I to think I could really love the Lord??  I was over-thinking the whole relationship, but that was also from my core of shame.  My prayers were essentially, “Wash me,” “Help me,” but never “Hold me.”  

It wasn’t until July of 2002, when I was 24 and on quiet retreat by myself for a few days, enjoying the solitude, that I read a story in the Gospel, one I’d read countless times before, but I read it with fresh eyes.  It was in Luke Chapter 7 “Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.”  Now the story goes on how the Pharisees were shocked and debated with Jesus about this woman touching him “for she is a sinner,” and Jesus goes on to defend this woman, and (here’s the part that pierced me through) AFTER his defense, he says to her “your sins are forgiven.”  

She had the bravery and love and audacity to ADORE the Lord with weeping and touching and tears and breaking open of a valuable gift - while she was still in sin.  WHILE she was a sinner.  She did not wait until she was appropriate or forgiven or perfect or had ticked off all the items on the salvation list.  She adored the Lord as she was and He accepted and defended her offering.  

That day, I was released from so much shame.  I wrote in my journal, “It seems that somewhere, supernaturally, I have been given permission to abandon myself, unashamedly, into adoring the Lord.”  

I found connection with Jesus when I stopped striving in prayer.  This loving, intimate, “Hold Me” kind of prayer became the core of my faith.  It replaced my core of shame.  Resting prayer is a release of control, dismissal of our pride in productivity, and a healing of the fear that we, all by ourselves, are not enough for Him to love.  

KNOWING AND BEING KNOWN

I think we’ve thoroughly covered the Seeing stage of Resting Prayer and can move on to the Knowing part of Resting Prayer (also known as HOPE).  

While Resting Prayer can be practiced daily, given a special place in your schedule, or allowed to bloom in the unexpected rush of life (or all of the above), it’s important to understand that Resting prayer is just as much a posture of the heart as it is a practice or discipline.  It grows with the intention to know and be known by God.  

Have you ever been in a relationship, or had an acquaintance that thought they had you all figured out?  You felt as though they’d already arrived at conclusions, and those conclusions were incomplete?  It almost creates the feeling of being stolen from when someone boxes you into an image or persona that is only a fraction of who you are, right?  But when you make an effort to get to know someone, when you approach them with the desire to learn who they are, you are acknowledging you don’t completely know them.  And this is good.  This is part of humility.

And this is the very posture we need to begin prayer.  We do not fully know this great God whom we love and worship, nor will we ever completely know Him this side of Glory, but we can approach him with humility and a desire to know Him more fully.  We can approach him with confidence in His goodness but not as though we know how this whole prayer thing needs to happen.  There is no formula with God, nor is prayer about making something perfect.  What we have in the moment is enough.  God accepts me in this very moment.  He is enough.  I am enough in Him, even with all my mess and stress.

Jesus teaches us about Resting Prayer through his example of praying alone.  He carried the needs of many while in Jerusalem, and at times he needed to walk away.  In Nazareth, walking away can literally mean we’re neglecting our children.  I’m not suggesting that!  But we can remember that knowing God through Resting Prayer may not be a perfect 45 minutes of silence and solitude, but it can be a space, a moment of recognition that pops up while we’re washing dishes or making a bed.  I like to call those micro-moments of Knowing God, the “nod” of the heart.  These nods keep us connected, like a cord of HOPE tying our hearts to heaven.  They are a perfect way to connect and reconnect, but for extreme stress, we need to set apart time to be renewed and healed.  It’s just so important. 

And maybe this is why I’m sharing this with so many of you today.  Because we need each other.  The shared meals, the help with childcare, the visits when we are sick---these are all part of the community we share with each other.  But we also need the gentle reminders to get away with God.  I have a good friend who is an unbeliever.  We worked together and had babies at the same time.  I’ll never forget one day when she told me, “Dacia, you’re really stressed and unsettled.  You need to go sit in church and have some quiet.  I know how much that makes a difference for you.”  Maybe we can be that same loving encouragement for each other.

One of my favorite psalms, which I’ll share with you in a moment, was born out of the most prime example of stress I think I’ve ever read in the Bible.  It’s the best example I can find where one of God’s children decided to hang up his badge.  You know the one that says, “Stressed Servant of God?”  Ever worn that?    

In the second book of Samuel, we read about the drama between jealous King Saul and young David.  Between chapters 19-22, we read that King Saul had thrown a spear at him, David’s wife advised him to run, his best friend advised him to run, so he ran for his life, ate holy bread because he was starving, played crazy to save his own life, and then hid in a cave.  But that’s not all!  While he’s in the cave his father and his whole family decided to join him!  Because when you’re running for your life, what’s better than a family reunion??

Now that’s still not the end of it.  My favorite part chapter 22:2 “And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him.  So he became captain over them.  And there were about four hundred men with him.”  How many of you want to take care of 400 hundred discontent men while you’re “Blessed not Stressed”?? 
  
So out of this magnificent example of one person’s STORM of stress, we have the sacred, intimate, and most lovely of psalms, Psalm 63:  

“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.  So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.  Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.  Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.  My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.  When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.  Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.  My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.”  

My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.  This close communion with the Lord, is it that we are knowing God or HE is knowing us?  YES.  For me, this Psalm is the perfect example of an agenda-less time with Jesus.  It’s just all relationship, all adoration.

STILLNESS AND LINGERING (or LOVE, the final step in Resting Prayer)

Our minds are desperate to understand what our souls are experiencing, but this kind of Resting Prayer requires that we lay aside all work of the mind, all analyzing, we are to simply direct our soul, our gaze to our Beloved.  We believe.  God is with us.  We are known by God.  We may use simple prayers to redirect our souls, but this is not a time heavy with thought or the use of words.

This kind of lingering in prayer always feels like a luxury or an indulgence, or simply impossible.  We make time for reading the Bible, Intercession, and then, “Woops, got to go!” Jesus is calling us to sit at his feet and simply experience his presence.  Many of you know about Listening Prayer, but I would like to have you go one step further.  Don’t have the intention of hearing anything.  Don’t have the intention of walking away with a “word.”  Simple enter into the “God With Us” moment you are having.  Entering into the NOW moment with our Lord, the more it is practiced, becomes an anchor point for our soul.  It becomes the rest from which all other prayer and work proceeds.  It is the Abiding in Christ.  The only striving we are called to do….enter into HIS rest.

Andrew Murray, author of the classic “Abide with Christ,” wrote in his book, “The Prayer Life,” “Our first work, therefore, ought to be to come into God’s presence not with our ignorant prayers, not with many words and thoughts, but in the confidence that the Divine work of the Holy Spirit is being carried on within us.  This confidence will encourage reverence and quietness, and will also enable us, in dependence on the help which the Spirit gives, to lay our desires and heart-needs before God.”

Jesus taught us the Lord’s prayer and the prayer of quiet through his example of leaving the crowds to be alone.  Yet there’s another example, which is rarely used as an example of prayer, but, to me, shows us MOST clearly about resting prayer. It’s when Jesus is asleep in the boat during the storm.  (Mark 4:38-40)  

While He sleeps, the apostles are offended!  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!!??”  Jesus then said PEACE to the sea, and addressed the apostles FEAR and lack of FAITH.  So many times we’re in the midst of the storm, and we’re riding those waves, entering into the intensity of it all - the rush, the pummel, the push to keep going - when God wants us to take a NAP WITH HIM. 

Resting Prayer, Abiding in Christ, Practicing the Presence of God - these are essentially the same form of prayer - our center point, the hub of the wheel.  This REST is not an excess, or an indulgence that falls at the end of our Christian list of duties.  It is not something we need to earn.  It is not the reward after a day well spent with only a few noteworthy sins--didn’t gossip, was nice on Facebook, didn’t yell at my kids, OK, NOW I can enter His rest!  It is the starting point, it is our home, it is the boat where Jesus sleeps in the storm of our soul.  

This boat, this home is what kept my faith from being washed away.  There was a time in my walk with the Lord that I suffered from spiritual abuse.  By definition, spiritual abuse is control and manipulation at the hands of religious authorities.  My spiritual abuse caused a tremendous amount of damage to my mind and soul, some of which I’m still wrestling with.  After first leaving the abusive environment, there was about a five year period where I couldn’t even read my Bible.  Now at the age of 30, I’d read my Bible cover to cover over six times, so this was a big deal.  

It was as though my soul was asleep in the boat, but I never lost my faith, because I could look back at those years and I KNEW I had encountered Jesus in the times of gazing upon Him and letting myself be KNOWN by him. This exposure to toxic faith could have robbed me of my own, but it was my practice of Resting Prayer in the midst of the spiritual abuse that kept my soul anchored in Jesus. 

I want to close with a poem I wrote during my 20s, while I was learning about all kinds of prayer.  In the beginning of my prayer journey, I discovered that, for me, in order to still my mind, I needed to do the opposite of sitting still.  I needed to quiet my heart while walking slowly but deliberately out in nature.  It was a good fit for my high energy self.  When I wrote this poem, I had experienced God With Us moments, but they were brief.  I was still building up this prayer muscle in my soul.  However, even as these moments seemed to quietly drift past me, they left me with with such serenity and awareness of God’s love, and that is my prayer for you.  

Walking Prayer

I sought you, my king,
to touch your robe.
The scent of your garments—
a faint mist was my joy.

I sought you, my shield,
my tabernacle.
I ran to your heart
where I could hide within.

I sought you, my friend.
I walked your favored paths.
The trees swayed from presence,
I traced your stride.

I sought you, my love.
I feared not finding you,
when you visited
in a whisper
and left me
kissing the mystery.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Call the Sisterhood

There's a kind of crying that involves tears but more noticeably a moan that is pulled out from the center of your pain.  It's preferable to have this sort of cry when you're alone with your windows closed so that neighbors will not be alarmed.  If you have a cat, an intuitive cat, he will find your cave of sorrow and curl up beside you, attempting to regulate your breathing to the rhythm of his purr.  Once the moan has subsided, the cat will know you're pulling through and leave to resume his post at the chipmunk patrol.

I am the youngest of three girls.  I spent the entirety of my 20s working and living with women--a sisterhood with shared belief and appreciation for each other's distinct skills and attributes.  When I got married in 2009, I danced and played and celebrated with my sisters, both familial and spiritual ones.  My husband stood beside the dance floor and watched, soaking it in, loving and respecting how my life will always be entwined with sisterhood, even though each one of them now lives, what feels like, light years away. 

I have two boys, three if you count my man, and two fur-boys.  The small home we inhabit is filled with energy, laziness, farts and sweet kisses.  After years of hard work, pursuing new connections as a mother, I have found a tribe of women that meets about twice a year and drinks a little too much wine.  We are comfortable in each other's presence.  We are diverse in our worldviews and alike in our passion for laughter and geekdom.  In a given conversation, we can cover faith, mental illness, Marvel movies, and Dr. Who.  I have yet to watch Dr. Who and have been informed I'll most certainly lose my geek card if I don't get on that.

I am blessed.  I am blessed.  I am blessed.  But, what I have never been able to recover, in all the amazing gifts I experience in my current life, is sisterhood.  The kind of in-person, every day, alongside you, happy to be silent, understands your faults, and challenges you to love deeper, helps you clean the house, works with you in the kitchen kind of sisterhood.  95% of married women in America don't have this kind of sisterhood.  It is barely heard of, unless you mother countless children and the oldest becomes your friend, rolls up her sleeves to work alongside you, and doesn't resent you in the process.  Or unless you're a polygamist. 

So maybe it would have been better if I never knew this kind of companionship?  Because then I would not be missing it and grieving it and feeling lost without it.  Grief becomes a part of life.  It never goes away.  It is directly correlated to having loved deeply.  It is evidence of having known good things, but it hurts so damn much.

These past few weeks, my remedy to grieving sisterhood has been to watch episodes of Call the Midwife.  I've already seen every season, but I've begun again to soak in the beautiful and heart-wrenching BBC delirium of women living, working, and loving together.  They celebrate each other in their differences and common goals.  I cry every damn time a woman gives birth, and my heart is squeezed every time the sisters sing the liturgy of the hours in their chapel.  I feel like an 80 year old woman who doesn't have anyone else left alive to keep her company, and she's turning the pages of her photo albums over and over and over again.

Yesterday, I spoke with one of my sisters.  She had life in her voice, so much fresh joy and vision.  It pulled me out of my aged state and reminded me of new paths I have yet to take.  But this morning there were more tears and grief.  And so it continues.  Hope and pain intertwined.  We women need each other, even if it's just the word to get up and put on a clean pair of big-girl panties. 

The nation is full of grieving women right now, confused women, silent women, brave women, and alone women.  Stand by a sister today.  Call a sister today.  Ask God for a sister today.  Their joy is your joy.  Their pain is your pain. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Voluntary Grief

I've always loved the reciprocity of volunteering.  I lend a hand and am blessed in the process.  It's a selfish form of giving, but it also keeps life in perspective.  Lending a hand, without getting any product or paycheck in return, broadens my limited worldview.  Volunteering reveals needs I never knew existed, and helps me find the common thread of humanity I so often overlook.

So I volunteered recently to be the performing story-teller at a weekend summer camp, a major event coordinated by a close friend who works for a Hospice Organization.  This camp is for children ages 6-15 who have lost a close family member or friend in the past year.  I was eager to dig deep, write my first fiction play, and embody the character of a young girl who had recently lost her father.  I was anxious about the timing of the weekend, because it fell directly after volunteering for five straight days as a third grade VBS teacher, but this was for a unique cause, and I was prepared to do it all.

Or, I thought I was.  That Saturday morning I readied myself alongside the other volunteers but could never anticipate the soul-shattering experience of reading each child's name tag--his or her own name scrawled on top and the person who died written underneath. 

So. Many. Dead. Parents.

The tears welled up, and I wanted to go fetal in a dark corner, but I swallowed them down saying "Dacia this is NOT about you."  I did what I came to do.  I played Zoe, the young girl who lost her father, and I loved the stage.  I enjoyed so much of the process, but it was the children and their grief that shook me to my core.  I knew nothing of that thick, dark matter.  My childhood grief was the fog, the haze, the nebulous loss of humans who were gone but still alive.  Theirs was forever gone.  Mom, Dad, forever gone.

It was part of their story, their reality, and they played games, stared past me, swore under their breath.  One boy who played on the fire trucks and ambulance, which arrived to bring joy, made the long slow sound of a machine which flat-lines while he sat on the bench, legs swinging beneath him.  One girl piled high the whipped cream on her ice cream sundae and sat next to me, never making eye contact, never eating past the rainbow sprinkles on top.

There were children who melt down when lettuce touched their sandwiches and children who commanded the attention of everyone in their group with vibrant smiles and bright chatter.  By the early afternoon, I recognized my greater role was to sit beside them, make myself available, and observe their grief.

Grief and death command recognition and reverence.  Who truly wants to volunteer to observe and participate in grief?  In America?  Hardly anyone.  We love the reciprocity of good neighbors, sharing that weed wacker, and the school P.T.O. raising money for scholarships.  We love lending a hand when a friend is moving or baking cookies when someone's anniversary needs to be celebrated.  But how many of us love to enter into someone else's grief?

I have a very close friend, her youngest child is my son's bestie, who is slowly saying goodbye to her husband as I type this post.  I stopped by this morning to drop off a meal (how easy was that?) and was stunned to see her man's decline.  Yes, I wanted to back away.  Yes, I told myself it's because she needs privacy right now.  But does she really?  Or am I uncomfortable.  No question mark there.  I am uncomfortable.  There is no reciprocity in death, unless it's the reciprocity of grief.

We will only expand our hearts to one another in this crazy, messed-up world, if we're willing to volunteer in the bless and in the mess.  How horribly church-lady of me to say that, but it's true.  We will stumble through it, maybe miss a lot of cues, but it is far better to volunteer for grief than never at all.

* * * * *

Side note:  there is always a shortage of volunteers in Hospice organizations.  It can be the most quiet work, simply sitting by a bed, but it's one of the holiest experiences you can have...to be witness to someone's birth into the next life.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Spring Disturbance

Spring is my favorite season of the year.  At least it used to be.  Everything is becoming new again!  Wake up trees! Wake up leaves on the trees!  Wake up grass and flowers, birds and SHUT UP BIRDS. 

The bright morning is SO early this year, and if it was simply waking me for an early rise complete with fresh coffee and solitude, I would marry Spring every year.  But it's waking every mother-lovin' member of my household at the butt-crack of dawn except for my husband.  Smart, Mike. 

My cats are still Winter fat, so their small paws that press good-morning against the ridge of my side-sleeping body feel like a branding iron.  My youngest son is delighted to jump into bed with me, because I ignore him during the day, and the early sun is an invitation to access mom when she's down.  As soon as my coffee pot begins percolating, my older son who sleeps above the kitchen, in a room with four windows pointing alarm clock East, is roused and leaps down the stairs to greet me.

Ah well.  Spring is for waking up.  Summer for wilting into rest.  Fall for...whatever, I just want some alone time.  Here's a gem from last November, when everything is DARK in the morning.

Small Sky

This cramped house,
to which I still add books, cats, and picture frames,
has windows in each room
but ceilings that hang so low my sun salutation
becomes a knuckle scrape across popcorn finish.

Once I could sit in the living room rocker,
view our vegetable garden and a slice of the sun
rising behind oak trees lined with mist and blush clouds,
but my tabby cat now has his perch beside that window
to survey the cardinals who flit about my neighbor's wiry brush.

I can sit behind his feline throne, wait until he leaves
to chase away his narrow-nosed brother,
but now the oak trees have extended their reach,
each year widening a frame around my small sky.

Today, there is a stream of white light
slowly dissolving into a stroke of gray.
I fix my eye on that gleam
and journal in pencil,
altering my world where I can.   

Dacia R. Ball ~ November 2017

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Witness and Wonder

Water from the spigot rushes over red boots,
Pools gather rapidly around them,
brimful buckets sway back and forth
drenching plants already damp from the storm. 
Where would the world be without children
who fetch pails of water?

At times the kitchen sink is all they find
for the sacramental filling and pouring—
Whispers uttered over sour cream containers
submerged in a mixing bowl lake. 
People rescued, fires put out, boats capsized, 
the front of their clothing dark and heavy,
saturated with wonder.

At best, I am ready, 
towels in hand, raising shirts
bound to goose-pimpled skin. 
My breaths are deep,
pull the mind
back to the heart. 
Order is secondary.
Witness the moment
that cannot keep.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Write Anyway

This post was written on the first day of Fall.  I never finished it, but in an effort to get back to writing, I'm going to post it anyway.  I feel new courage to write.  My poetry group, Wordsong Poets, met tonight and encouraged me in my work.  It all takes time.  And memory.  And being centered.  Although this post ends on a somewhat angst-ridden moment, it is strangely uplifting.  OK.  I'm weird.  The reason I am seeing it in a positive light is because at the time I felt broken, but I WROTE anyway.  That is the point....to enter those moments and not let them lay stagnate.

Here it is...

Today is the first day of Fall.  We filled our bird feeder yesterday, and this morning I am distracted from my writing by a tufted titmouse and chickadee just two feet away.  Our cat is on high alert.  He stands at the screen door, tail flicking, and tracks the the flight path to and from the feeder.  It is all just too much for Chandler.  In the backyard, a chipmunk family.  In the front yard, a slew of birds.

Lion has been in Kindergarten for three weeks now.  He told us that he needs more than two days off.  My heart breaks.  I would home school him if I could, but I need help raising my children.  I can not do it alone, therefore my children are in the pathway of public schooling.  I feel broken.  Broken.  I used that word to describe myself to another stay at home mother once.  She laughed and said, "You are NOT broken."  Apparently that's impossible for a white suburban mother.

But I am broken.  I gave my life to big ideals for ten years.  I made huge sacrifices, but I lived in beauty with constant companionship and the ability to escape to solitude whenever I needed.  Granted, I was constantly battling an undercurrent of manipulation and emotional abuse.  But I fought to possess an interior life that was my own doing.  Because of my efforts, I was able to leave that abusive environment and retain a sense of faith and trust in God.  What I didn't anticipate was the utter brokenness that comes with possessing and then losing community.  My compass is smashed.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Where Did the Weather Go?

OK.  I'm not complaining.  After the winter we had last year, it was amAzing to have a light-handed winter this year.  But have you noticed that the months are no longer distinct?  I used to get to the end of March and recognize that March had happened in its entirety.  We had heavy winds.  We had the lion's roar at the start and soft lamb-like Spring showers decorating March's end.  As I recognize the shift in our weather over the past few years, this climate change, I'm seeing how my life longs for the ritual of the seasons.  I love to see how November is overcast, miserable, never glorious, but it gives way to crisp blue skies in December.  There is a natural rhythm to our lives.  The Church displays this in the liturgical year.  Advent prepares us for Christmas, a brief ordinary time yields its normalcy to Lent, then Easter and Pentecost proclaim celebration.  The remainder of the year is ordinary, a simple observance of life with a sprinkling of holy days throughout.

But the weather is changing.  Our world is experiencing a cosmic shift.  While many of us experience ordinary times as usual, there are countries in existential turmoil.  While I am bemoaning the loss of my vibrant New England variety, refugees are living in muddy tent-communes, existing on the generosity of others, unable to provide for their families without begging for help.


The liturgical year was my focus for years.  I relished the shifting rituals.  That was my home.  But I have found myself, these past 8 years, with freedom from practicing my faith in a prescribed manor.  I am outside my comfort zone, the manager of my own home, the leader of children I am still recognizing as mine.  I am comfortable, well fed, and have a purpose to live out in the ordinary times of motherhood.  But the world's shift is a mirror to my own.  I feel displaced, as though this world is strange and outside any reference I was ever given.  There is joy in my wild, unstructured days, but as I try and enter those moments of glee, anxiety crops up, making me turn my head and look for the ritual wherein I hope to rest.

And now the weather is unpredictable, it is shifting.  The world's boundaries are shifting...a source of anxiety and cosmic displacement for so many.  Where did the weather, the security of seasons go?  We can focus on the shift, the disturbance of earth and time, and inevitably find ourselves in the liturgy of fear and anxiety.  Or, we can play.  We can embrace the wild, the unpredictable, and look to bring comfort and stability to others.  We can care for ourselves and this good earth.  That is the only ritual we are capable of maintaining...the ritual of the "other."  That is where we can rest.