Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fountain of Youth?

Read a good article in AARP the Magazine this morning:

"Age-Proof Your Brain."

Enjoy, and have a good hump day:-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

I’ll Fly Away

A few brief thoughts on Clean Monday—the first day of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church:

From Elder Amphilochios

"The spiritual life has great joys. You fly away and leave this world and don’t take anything else into consideration. You become a child and God lives in your heart."

When I read those words—You fly away—I couldn’t help but think about the old Gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away.” I hope you don’t mind the dose of humor this video brings to my reflections on the first day of Great Lent, but I’m just feeling all bright and shiny after being at Forgiveness Vespers at St. John Orthodox Church last night, and also after meeting with my father confessor a week or so ago. He always reminds me that I’m “brand new” after the sacrament of confession. Did I mention that he is Greek?

On my walk by the river this morning, I was wishing for two things: a breeze and a kite. If it was a windy day (and we’ve had plenty of them lately, but just not today) I’d go out and buy a kite and fly it like the Greeks do every year on Clean Monday, to celebrate freedom from the sins that weigh us down.

But with no breeze and no kite, I took deep breaths, smiled in the sunshine of this beautiful day, and thanked God for making all things new. I don’t think I’ve ever entered into Great Lent with this kind of joy before. Father Alexander Schmemann calls it a “bright sadness,” but I’m not feeling the sadness right now. I’ve had enough sadness for a while… bring on the brightness!

There’s a good article by Aaron Taylor in the Guardian that explains a bit more about Orthodox Lent:

“A season of bright sadness.”

Psalm 142:7 says, “Bring my soul out of prison that I may praise Thy name.”

I know this post is a crazy mix of spiritual and secular words, music and images, but you know what? So are most of us. We are spiritual beings, but we are also human, and it's our fallen humanity that Christ died to restore to the beauty He created in the beginning. So, I’ll close with these lyrics by Kris Delmhorst, from her song, “Everything is Music,” which she adapted from a poem by Rumi, “Where Everything is Music.” I love the line that says, “Why do you stay in jail when the door is wide open?”

You can listen to Kris sing it here.

Everything is Music

We've come to the place where everything is music
Everything is music, let it play.
Why do you stay in jail when the door is wide open?
Let the beauty that you love be what you do.
Stop talking now, open up the window
The one right there in the middle of your heart
Give us your hands, sit down in this circle
You know you got no need to keep yourself apart
Today you wake up sad and empty, don't go back to sleep.
There's a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Don't worry now, about saving all these songs,
There's so many more just waiting to be found.
And if all these instruments should disappear
We would still hear something coming up from way down in the ground
Because we've come to the place where everything is music
Everything is music, let it play.

I’m trying to finish my novel by the end of March, so I’ll be writing writing writing during these first weeks of Great Lent. And I’ll be thinking about Rumi’s words, “Let the beauty that you love be what you do.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

God Forgives... and I Forgive

Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church. And then on Sunday night, with Forgiveness Vespers, we enter Great Lent.

Instead of writing something new about it this year, I'll share three things:

Father Thomas Hopko speaks to the heart of forgiveness in this podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.

"Forgiveness Sunday and Kites on Clean Monday"
(from 2008)

"As White as Snow" (from 2009)

I didn't go to Forgiveness Vespers last year. I wasn't ready to forgive some people who had hurt me, although God forgives me for my sins against others, which are great. My pride and anger kept me from Holy Communion many times throughout the past year. But, as Father Hopko says, "Forgiveness is life itself.... and we kill ourselves in the act of not forgiving."

With God's help, and the encouragement of my father confessor, I hope to be there this Sunday night, when each parishioner asks of others, "Please forgive me, a sinner."

And each will answer, by God's grace, "God forgives... and I forgive."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

(Almost Wordless) Ash Wednesday

I wish a good Lenten journey to all who commemorate Ash Wednesday.

Orthodox Lent begins next Monday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scandal in Mississippi in the 1920s

Today is my mother's 84th birthday. That's her with her parents, Granddaddy and Mamaw (Emma Sue). She's my grandmother who sewed all my clothes until I was about sixteen, and taught me to make homemade yeast rolls and how to fish in the pond at Aunt Lorena's house. And he's the grandfather who molested me when I was about four. He died just before my fifth birthday.

I wrote about Mom's 81st birthday here
, if you're interested. And links to other posts about her are here:

"Disappearing Stories."

But today I'm thinking about her REAL birthday. You see, a few years ago I was cleaning out some boxes of things I had packed up when I sold her house, and I found her birth certificate. I was about to file it with her other papers when I noticed something odd: the date on the birth certificate was January 20, 1928, NOT February 20. I thought it must be a mistake, since we have always celebrated Mom's birthday on February 20.

I scrambled around for her driver's license, and there it was: February 20.

I checked other papers, like her Medicare and Blue Cross cards, and they all agreed she was born on February 20.

You'd think I would have just dismissed it as an error, but I couldn't help remembering what she told me years ago, when I asked why her parents moved to Tyler, Texas just before she was born, instead of staying in Meridian, Mississippi, their home town.

"Dad was looking for a better job, so they moved to Texas, and I was born there. After a few months, they moved back to Meridian."

With her words hanging in the air, I dug through more boxes until I found her parents' wedding certificate. From JUNE of 1927. If Mom was born on January 30, my grandmother was pregnant with her before they were married. Scandalous in the 1920s. So they simply moved away for a few months and returned to Mississippi with a tiny baby girl (she was small for her age) and lied about her birth date. And her birth certificate actually has a box where you put YES or NO under "LEGITIMATE"! Of course they put "YES".... I can't believe it was even an official question on a birth certificate in 1928.

By the time I discovered this, my mother's Alzheimer's was too far progressed for me to talk with her about it. Surely she knew. I wonder when she found out and how she felt about it. I'll never know. And I guess it's a secret she will take to her grave, since she no longer remembers....

Happy Birthday, Mom! (I sent her a card and will visit later this week.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Wait.. that's the 17th, right? Oh, no... wrong month!

Here's what happened to me on Monday. I looked on my wall calendar and saw that Friday, the 17th, was St. Patrick's Day. Or at least that's what I had copied onto that date from last year's calendar... with a note that it's my Godson, Patrick's, Name Day.

Patrick lives in Seattle, so I went to get him a card and gift card to mail on Monday so he would get it by today. I was confused that there were no St. Patrick's Day cards in the little grocery store in my neighborhood, what with the day being only 4 days away. So I got a generic card and put it in the mail. On time to reach Patrick today.

Then on Wednesday it hit me: St. Patrick's Day is in March. I know this. It was my Aunt Barbara Jo's birthday, and I always got her one of those cards for people with a St. Pat's Day birthday, you know?

I know that St. Patrick's Day is in March.

And yet for 3 days this week I believed it was in February because I had copied it onto the wrong month from last year's calendar.

My mother has Alzheimer's. Her mother also had it. So this concerned me greatly and I told my husband about it last night.

He said he wouldn't take my car keys away yet.

But I'm thinking I might need him to organize my meds pretty soon....

Or I might need help finding my way home one day. Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mother of God Similar to Fire

I've been in a(nother) funk lately... struggling with my own demons and dealing with some painful situations. Not that I'm unique in this--we all have pain, we all have sorrow. So, this week I'm especially thankful to have somebody to lean on. That "somebody" has come to me in the form of four amazing women.

Two of those women are dear friends who know me better than I know myself sometimes. They are always there for me, but never more than when I'm in despair and on a precipice. I'm thankful to both of them for talking me down from the ledge this week.

A third woman, also a dear friend, brought me a gift on Sunday that is full of grace and healing. It's a beautiful book of icons and lyric poems called Mother of God Similar to Fire. The icons are by William Hart McNichols and the reflections are by Mirabai Starr.

Starr's reflections are another wonderful example of ekphrastic poetry, like those of Orthodox poet and author, Scott Cairns.

Father McNichols is a Catholic priest who worked as a hospice chaplain for a number of years before studying iconography. Mirabai Starr is, as Fr. McNichols says, "a bright and highly respected author and translator and is gifted above all with a genuine poet-touched soul. Having lost a child, she has dedicated herself to a ministry of sitting with the bereaved."

I don't want to infringe on McNichols and Starr's copyrights, so I won't quote any of the poems in full here, or show any of the complete images. I hope they won't mind the details I'm sharing from two of the icons, and a few lines from the reflections that have blessed me so much this week.

Oh, and the fourth woman? Of course it's Mary, the Mother of God.

Excerpt from "The Woman Clothed With the Sun" ("Encircled by sunlight, rooted in moonlight"....)

Whenever we attempt to give birth
to something beautiful and true
the dragons of this world seem to crop up
and try to eradicate it...
Wrap me in your protective light, Mother Mary,
so that I may in turn protect the holiness I carry.

Excerpt from "Our Lady of Grace, Vladimir"

Help me rekindle the awe that infuses your countenance,
the fleeting joy that comes at the inevitable price of pain.
Let me be grateful again
for the grace or ordinary moments,
where God dwells.

I've set this detail as the wallpaper on my cell phone today, to remind me of Her presence throughout the day. I hope these images and words also bring you grace and peace.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Origami Poetry Chap Books

What a delight on this cold and cloudy Monday morning to receive an email from my friend, the poet and novelist Corey Mesler, with a link to a wonderful little poetry chap book that you print and fold (like origami) yourself. Check out "To Writing You."

And then click here to learn how to fold the book. (It's easy, really. My first try, in this photo, is a little crooked but that's because my printer messed up the margins.)

The cover art is by Corey's daughter, Chloe.

My favorite poem in the book is "Walking on God's Good Side," but I also love "Conviction."

Need something to put inside your Valentine's card? This is it! The book is only 2 3/4 X 4 1/4 inches. Click on other poets' names at the site and you might find more little chap books to print, fold, cut and give as gifts or just enjoy yourself.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The "New" Yellow

I never liked PINK or BLUE. And my best friend has tried to get me to like GREEN, but that doesn't work for me either. I've been a fan of YELLOW ever since it came out.

This RAINBOW OF COLORS I'm talking about is artificial sweeteners. (Pink=Sweet'n Low, Blue=Equal, Yellow=Splenda, Green=Stevia, Brown=Raw Sugar)

I still prefer RAW SUGAR and use it alongside my favorite artificial sweetener, SPLENDA. But recently I was in a coffee shop and asked for Splenda and they offered me a YELLOW package that looked like Splenda, but the name on it was SHAPE. The waitress said, "This is our Splenda."

Of course I was suspicious. But I tasted it and couldn't tell the difference...and I'm really picky about artificial sweetners. So I came home and Googled Shape and Splenda and compared the ingredients, and both have dextrose with maltodxtrin and sucralose.

The Stevia fans claim that Splenda will slow down weight loss (and my best friend--the one who is a fan of Stevia--says it caused cancer in lab rats.)

So... I trod along with my sweet tooth in tow... putting 2 Splenda packets and 1 raw sugar packet in my coffee. Or in a latte or cappuccino. I'm off to my favorite neighborhood coffee shop to get some right now.

What are you thoughts about the RAINBOW of SWEETENERS?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back in the Saddle...with interruptions

After spending the month of November at a personal writing retreat in Seagrove Beach, Florida, it was difficult to return to “normal life” in Memphis… especially since I didn’t finish my novel, as I’d hope I would, in November.

So I had to put it on the back burner when I returned to Memphis and to an offer on our house… to packing and moving and unpacking and setting up housekeeping again… with a break for Christmas and New Year’s with family. We moved on January 16, so I gave myself two weeks to get unpacked, with plans to be “back in the saddle” writing the end of the novel by February 1.

That was a week ago. Today I finally got the manuscript out and did some reading, revision, and even wrote some new material. I had plans to write all day tomorrow and Friday, but now the people from Direct TV coming “between 12 and 4” tomorrow for repairs, and my landlord’s plumber/electrician is coming “sometime Friday morning” to finish working on leaks, lighting, and miscellaneous maintenance issues… almost a month overdue. I know from experience that these interruptions could take all day, or even into next week.

It was good to read this post by Nathan Bransford on getting back into writing after being away.

So how do I focus on the work knowing that I might be interrupted at any time? I know of young mothers and fathers who write while children are in the house and I wonder how they do that. Maybe I’ve got attention deficit disorder (pretty sure I do) or maybe I’m just spoiled by the time and space I do have. I love my new “room of my own” and today when my husband was home for lunch I put a note on the door that said, “WRITING: See you tonight.”

And yet he knocked to hand me the phone so I could set up a time for Direct TV to come tomorrow or the next day…. It’s not his fault. I also want these things to be taken care of. And I love my new office/studio. Virginia Woolf would approve.

But I sure do miss Seagrove Beach….

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Circling Faith Has a Web Site!

It's been almost two years since I submitted my essay, "Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns," to Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne, editors of Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, coming soon from the University of Alabama Press. The publishing world will teach you patience, or drive you crazy. Finally we're getting close to lift-off, and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, now has a web site!

Hop on over and read about our fabulous editors, cover artist, and some of the women whose work will be included in this second anthology on Southern women and spirituality. (The first was All Out of Faith, published in 2006.)

I'm still spinning from being mentioned in the same paragraph with my idol, Mary Karr. But I also continue to be impressed with Wendy and Jennifer's editing and leadership skills. They expanded my mind with their suggestion for a new title for my essay, "Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow."

And now I hear we might have an actual book in our hands by April. Stay tuned here and on Circling Faith's Facebook Page for news about upcoming author events across the South.