A new Facebook friend just put me onto something inspirational today—Kathleen Norris’s Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. I’ve been reviewing Norris’ book, Acedia & Me, in sections on my blog, but I haven’t read her Vocabulary of Faith. Here’s an excerpt from a Library Thing review:
“Her book is a series of short, beautifully written essays (none more than 5 pages long) about the 'vocabulary of faith' as she calls it. There are thoughts on there are excerpts on such words as Heresy, Reprobate, Idolatry, Anger, Herod, Hospitality, Orthodoxy, Ecstacy, Trinity, and a host of others.”
From there I also discovered Jeremy’s Driscoll’s A Monk’s Alphabet: Accidental Reflections of a Monk in the World.
And here’s another except, this time from the Synopsis at Barnes & Noble:
“Monastic literature has inspired and challenged the world outside the cloister ever since monks started putting their thoughts on paper well over fifteen hundred years ago. With his Monk's Alphabet, Father Jeremy Driscoll brings the genre into the twenty-first century, offering a collection of compact and thought-provoking essays on life, faith, and the world around us from the perspective of someone whose existence is structured around the unfolding of the interior life.”
Both of these sources led me to Frederick’s Buechner’s Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. And then to another Synopsis at Barnes & Noble:
“In Wishful Thinking, the first book in his much-loved lexical trilogy, Frederick Buechner puts the language of God, the universe, and the human spirit under his wry linguistic microscope. In his often ironic and always keen-sighted reflections on such terms as agnostic, envy, love, and sin, he invited us to look at theses everyday words in new and enlightening ways. Freshly revised and expanded for this edition, Wishful Thinking is a "beguiling" [Time] adventure in language for the restless believer, the doubter, and all who love words.”
All that to say that I am now inspired to write my own "spiritual alphabet" during Great Lent, which will not be as theological as Bucehner’s, nor as monastic as Father Driscoll’s, nor as grace-filled as Norris’s. But if you suck at prayer and fasting and want to share in a fellow sinner’s Lenten journey, this is the place to be. Please join me as I endeavor to create my Sinner’s Lenten Alphabet. I’ll probably write a short essay for each entry, although I might sneak in a poem or two. On dry days, I’ll probably quote others, or even link to a video or share music lyrics. Here goes!
A is for Ascetic Struggle, Agent Rejection and Alcohol
Today is Clean Monday—the first day of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians. You can read my post from last year for info about that, if you’re interested.
In addition to the usual, “spiritual” reason to fast today, I’m having some fasting lab work done tomorrow morning at my doctor’s office, which helps keep me motivated. I really, really, really suck at fasting.
I was doing okay until about 2 o’clock this afternoon, when I opened an email from the literary agent I queried recently for my memoir-in-progress, “Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers, and Nuns.” It was a VERY NICE rejection letter from someone I respect and like very much. But it was still a rejection. For my friends who are writers, I’ll share an excerpt from the letter:
“Thanks for querying me. Unfortunately, though this is interesting and well written, I have to pass. I am just not having any luck finding publishers for beautiful little memoirs these days, with this poor publishing economy. I have struck out on two that were just gorgeous and really deserved a home. Publishers want authors/books with huge platforms or such huge marketing hooks that they’re sure-fire bestsellers…. Other agents may differ, and don’t let me discourage you from continuing your quest.”
My initial response, of course, was “I want a drink.” But I shared the news with my husband, and his compassion really helped soothe the pain. A lot. And then I whipped off emails to a couple of close friends and writing mentors and got some good e-love, reminders to pray, and advice about where to go from here. All beautiful gifts for which I’m thankful.
But now that the initial disappointment is finding its way to my heart, I’m feeing the pain, and the ascetic struggle is intensifying. Asceticism is about being okay with not always getting what you want. It’s about humility and self-denial, an acquired taste, not something we’re born with. Thankfully I’ll get some spiritual food tonight at St. John Orthodox Church, where we’ll pray Great Compline, and chant that hauntingly beautiful hymn, “God is with us….”
So that’s my brief essay on the letter “A”… the beginning of my “Sinner’s Lenten Alphabet.” Maybe it’s okay that today, on the first day of Lent, I’m feeling a lot like our father, Adam, who ate the Apple and was banned from the Garden. Maybe the letter “B” will bring a Brighter post.