Annunciation

Lingering bits of brilliance play
among the dust in slanting rays of sunlight.
A fragrance also.
Indefinable.
Mysterious.
Other.
She shivers as she remembers…

Taken completely by surprise,
His voice.
Man voice.
Inside her modest chamber.
Unheard of.
She is terrified. And yet…

He does not harm her.
A messenger, he says.
He does not explain how he came to be there.
So suddenly.
Shimmering…

Highly favored, he calls her.
Blessed.
She is to bear a child.
Son of the Most High.
Throne of David.
House of Jacob.
JESUS.

She trembles.
Tears betray her fear.
She barely breathes…

…HOW?

(It is too much.
She is so young.)

Words tender…
Holy Spirit
Son of God
You
are not
alone.

Silence hangs in the room.
Heavy.
Her heart pounds.
So much
depends
on this……

May it be to me….according to your word.

Her whisper rends time.
Nothing
will ever
be the same.
Inside her fragile body
the DNA
of God.

Lingering bits of brilliance play
among the dust in slanting rays of sunlight.
A fragrance also.
Indefinable.
Mysterious.
Other.

~sm

Today, Christians around the world commemorate the Feast of the Annunciation. We honor the Mother of God; she who first showed us how to open our lives completely to Christ. To allow Him to fully inhabit the deepest parts of who we are, whatever the cost. Inside her womb was wrought the Incarnation which is life to us all. Would that I might be more like her.

“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be to me according to Your Word.” ~Luke 1:38

 

Just Show Up

I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. But when God gently sings the same idea into my life over and over…..and over…..even I can’t miss that.

In less than a week, from three different sources, on three different topics, one message:

Just show up.

First, my sweet friend Anne poured her heart onto the page on behalf of those walking through the heart-rending pain and loneliness of divorce. She said the most important thing we can do when those we love are walking though this…or any kind of pain for that matter…is to be there.

“Here’s the catch. When a relationship is ending, especially a marriage, it physically feels as if your soul has been ripped out of your body. People going through this change will likely not have the strength to reach out to you….Not only do we not want to bring people down with us, we don’t have the strength to engage with others. This is why it’s so important you reach out constantly to your friends.”

It is cowardly to allow my own inadequacies to keep me from loving others. Just because I don’t have any earth shattering wisdom to share doesn’t mean I have nothing to give to those I love who are hurting. They need me now more than ever.

Just show up.

On Sunday, the Orthodox Church honored the great theologian, Saint Gregory of Palamas. Our priest confessed to us how intense and somewhat intimidating he finds the works of this brilliant man who was so important to the Church. He then gave us what he lightheartedly titled “Orthodoxy for Dummies”. Point number one: Just show up. The Liturgical life is a gift to us. God will use it to heal us, to restore us, to make us who He always intended us to be. But we have to make ourselves available to this process.

Just show up.

I have been slowly making my way through Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice.  This morning I was reading back through underlines and notes when I came to a section called “Rules for the Road”. Here is rule number one:

“In order to be an artist, I must show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.”

It is not necessary for me to know what I will write. I need not have everything worked out in my head. I know from my own experience that most of what goes on the page only reveals itself once words are already flowing from heart to fingers. But if I allow fear of the blank page to keep me from putting pen to paper in the first place, those words will never be released.

Just show up.

Three applications. One truth. It is not our wisdom, our effort, or our brilliance that is wanted. It is our presence. When we are available, the magic happens.

I have an idea this truth is not just for me. Where is your presence desperately wanted just now?

Mangia

What if you had an uncle Nick who loved to cook? And what if  he stretched out long tables, covered them with linens and candles, and filled them with family and friends…and soon to be friends? And then, what if he seduced you for an entire evening with an endless succession of authentic Italian dishes, any one of which is worthy of an ode? And, imagine this: What if music had been his livelihood and he loved to belt out tunes while whisking his lovely bride around the dining room? Would you want to be part of an evening like that?

Welcome to Mangia Nashville!

Mike and I shared a table with Jen, Cathy, Scott, and the Presbyterian pescatarian. (Someone at the table misunderstood when he said he was a pescatarian and thought he said Presbyterian. We had so much fun with this, I have forgotten his actual name. Sorry!) We laughed and told stories and oooed and ahhhhed over each delectable creation as it came to us.

ANTIPASTI: We began with beautiful roasted red peppers graced with balsamic reduction and golden raisins. Then, against the gentle sweetness of the peppers, we were served fried olives stuffed with cheese. Crispy, salty, and wonderful. When our waiter delivered the mozzarella carrozza (mozzarella in a carriage) we all stopped eating and just gazed at it. Mouths watering. Crunchy breadcrumbs were the perfect counterpoint to soft, warm, rich mozzarella. An ornament of marinara completed the delirium. A table favorite. Finally there was Bruschetta served with Tuscan white bean dip. *Hint: if you still have red peppers, they are yummy with this.

INSALATA: A very good, authentic Caesar salad seemed almost anticlimactic after all this. But the arugula with citrus and shaved Parmesan was noteworthy.

PASTA: The rigatoni with beef short-rib Bolognese was delivered with a reminder to “pace yourselves”. This was the dish Scott had been most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. The sauce was rich, but with an artful restraint. Then. Oh, then! Homemade potato gnocchi in pecan basil pesto cream sauce. I am salivating even now as I type the words. This was the dish Mike and I had both been dreaming of. Oh! My!! Soft little pillows of heaven so light they almost seemed to be made of vapor. Delicious vapor. Decadently dressed in a sauce that only added to the illusion you were eating the stuff of the gods. At this point I defied any dish to compare.

Perhaps I spoke too soon…

ENTRATA: First up of the entrees was a lovely rosemary lemon chicken that might very well be the star of most culinary explorations. But, you understand our palate had been so elevated by this point that we were quite snobbish. We sampled. We liked. But we had become serious about the pacing thing. Besides, we knew what was next… Veal osso buco over polenta. If there was a single pinnacle of the evening…and it seems almost blasphemous to even say that…this would be it. Every particle of the veal had been infused with the braising liquor. Even the bone marrow was scrumptious. Tender flesh against creamy rich polenta made for bites that had to be contemplated slowly. Lingered over. Treasured. Our pescatarian was, of course, happy to see the shrimp scampi. Jumbo shrimp in a refreshing lemon butter sauce made for a nice close to the savory portion of our meal.

DOLCE: It is lovely to be able to see the dishes as they line them up on the counter. You can begin feasting with your eyes before the rest of your senses get in on the action. Perhaps the most delightful to contemplate from afar was the St. Joseph’s pastry, a special offering that night in honor of the feast day of San Giuseppe (husband of Mary, earthly father of Jesus). Lighter than air pastry filled with cool, subtly sweetened ricotta. Yum! And finally, hot, fragrant zeppole served in a bag of confectioner’s sugar, just as you would buy them on a street corner in New York. I read a suggestion that this makes them a convenient take-home offering. Yeah, whatever.

Other bits and pieces: The Godfather plays soundlessly throughout dinner. At any time, if Nick is visiting your table, you can ask him to recite the dialogue and he will kindly, and passionately oblige. We asked. He obliged. He was fabulous!! We sang. We clapped. Mike and I were toasted because we were celebrating an anniversary. And in case your Italian is rusty, mangia means “to eat”.

Mangia Nashville is an experience. An experience of culinary artistry. An experience of family and friendship. An experience of joy.

Saturday nights only. Service is family style. Beginning in April, price will be $40 per person. Bring your own wine. Corkage fee of $5 per bottle. Make reservations by calling 615.538.7456 or email MangiaNashville@gmail.com. Every Saturday in March sold out, and the 26th is completely booked. So plan ahead. 🙂 Read what the Nashville Scene and Williamson a.m. had to say HERE and HERE.

Buon appetito!!

The Season of Singing Has Come!

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky— all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then— open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

~Mary Oliver

 

Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away.
For lo, the winter is past
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come…

~Song of Songs 2:10-12

 

A Letter to Laura

I have a new hero. Her name is Laura. On Sunday, Laura will run the LA Marathon. This is pretty exceptional all by itself, given that less than 1% of the population will ever complete a marathon. But Laura has traveled farther than most to get to this place.

She has surmounted a great many obstacles in her young life, not the least of which is a debilitating disease. Laura has chronic rheumatoid arthritis. There have been times over the past few years when even walking was nearly impossible. And now she is going to run.

26 miles.

Unfathomable!!

For this courageous woman, pushing her own personal boundaries is not enough. She is using her odyssey to help others. She has raised nearly $4,000.00 for C.A.T.S. (Center for Assault Treatment Services).

Running to help heal the bodies, minds, and spirits of the countless sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors, one step at a time…

I am, quite frankly, in awe of her.

As a fellow endurance runner, and as one who holds this brave young woman in the highest esteem, I send these words today to Laura. Feel free to eavesdrop.

Dearest Laura,

To even dream of running a marathon requires a great deal of daring. It is not for the faint of heart. But, it seems to me that you have been preparing for this moment for years. Life has asked a lot of you. You could have allowed this to defeat you or make you bitter. Instead you are burning it as fuel.

As if that were not enough, you have allowed your own pain to make you a valiant defender of the broken. Your gift to C.A.T.S. will provide freedom and healing to many. It will give them the ability to breathe again. Thank you for that.

As a fellow marathoner, I have a few words for you as you go into your first:

You have already done the hardest part. Getting out there week after week and running farther than you have ever run requires exceptional fortitude…and a wee bit of magic. 🙂 It is not glamorous. It is sweaty and hard. This you have done.

Like you, I usually only train to 21 or 22 miles. In my first marathon this messed with my head a little. Would I be able to find those extra 5 miles on game day? The answer to that question is YES!! Event day will bring an energy to you you didn’t know you had. And all those miles you’ve logged have developed in you the physical stamina to do more than you have yet asked of your body.

The most excruciating part of any race for me is the couple of hours before start. Nervous energy, which will serve me later, just makes me a wreck…like a race horse pawing the dirt in its stall.  I wonder if I’ve eaten enough. Or too much. Should I go to the bathroom one more time? But when the run begins, I’m home. This I know. This I’ve done.

I know you are running with friends and you probably know all the standard wisdom. Don’t go out too fast. Run YOUR pace. Don’t do a lot of needless weaving in and out of people. (It adds mileage!) Walk when you need to. Stay hydrated. etc….

Drink deeply of this day. Listen to the cheers. They are cheering for YOU! People who have never dreamed of doing what you are doing…people who can only imagine what it has cost you…are in awe of you. You are a hero to them. Take it in. High five the little kids who will line the path. Notice all the beautiful things along the way. This day is gift.

Laura, you are an extraordinary young woman. I wish you could know how you have inspired me. Your story will inspire countless others as well. I will be praying for you on Sunday morning from the time I wake up and anxiously awaiting news of your finish. You can do this.

Blessings to you, dear one.

GODSPEED!

Dear friends, will you also pray for Laura on Sunday morning? The run begins at 7:20 Pacific time. Also, if you are interested in helping her reach her goal of $4,000.00 for C.A.T.S. (she is almost there), leave a comment and I will send you donation details. Finally, if you would like to leave her good wishes or advice, I will be sure to pass those along.

Remembering…

It was twenty years ago, today.

We were somewhere in the middle of the Kansas plains. Snow had fallen during the night, and dawn was breaking on an endless sea of white. We had been driving for hours. From Nashville to Denver to visit Mike’s brother and his family.

We were station surfing when we heard the announcement. In the mountains just outside San Diego, a private plane carrying members of Reba McEntire’s band had gone down. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. We stopped at the first pay phone we passed (you remember those?). Mike called home and there was already a message. Our friend Chris was gone.

Chris who shared my occasional cravings for fried bolgna sandwiches. Chris who played tennis every week with Mike. Chris who helped us muck out our basement when the water heater ruptured. Chris who was crazy mad about his beautiful bride, Trisha. Chris who seemed to see the whole world as a gift waiting to be unwrapped.

Chris who never said goodbye. It astonished me at first. We would be talking on the phone, and suddenly he would just not be there any more. Perhaps we had finished what we were talking about but…well, you know…that tell-tale sign that the conversation is over…yeah, he never used that. He would just be gone.

Ironic, I suppose.

We said goodbye to him on a bright, windy day. Cherry trees threw an exuberance of blossoms against an Appalachian sky. We could see for miles from his resting place high on a hill in Boone, NC. The service concluded with a song Chris had written. It was a fitting tribute to a man who had lived his short life well and had engraved himself eternally on our hearts. The chorus says this:

So let’s drink from a cool mountain river,
And make love ‘neath a blanket of snow.
If we make a lot of memories
as we’re growin’ old
We will take a lot of memories when we go.

 

We remember, dear friend. Always.

 

Band Tribute from Starstruck Entertainment on Vimeo.

Gift…

I have a “keep it forever” box. In it are gifts. Drawings and early scribbles from my babies. Love letters. Notes from my students. Cards from friends. Bits and pieces of one’s heart placed lovingly on paper and given to me. To an insurance adjuster it is worthless. But to me, it is priceless.

Today my husband and I have been married for 24 years. I would like to give him a keep it forever something. Last year I said thank you for the gift he has been to me. I thought this year it might be time to give something back.

So baby, these are my gifts to you:

I give you the gift of being heard. Your hopes, your dreams, your worries and hurts, your stories and jokes, your Snapple facts 🙂 … Share these with me. I’m listening.

I give you the gift of belief. Belief in who you are and who you can be. Belief in endeavors you wish to pursue. Belief in you as husband, father and friend.

I give you the gift of shared adventures. Whether racing up some mountain, navigating strange foreign cultures, trying crazy new foods, running all night, or something so wild we have not dared to imagine it yet, these I share with you.

I give you the gift of kind words. Words to you and words about you. I promise to be your biggest fan. Not blind. Not oblivious to challenges or faults. But honest enough and intentional enough to choose to acknowledge all that is good and true about you, to you and to others.

I give you permission to speak. Permission to speak hard words to me when needed. I do not promise I won’t be hurt. Nor can I assure you I won’t lash out at you. But I say to you that I need your input in my life. So if you are courageous enough, and I believe you are, say on.

I give you permission to not speak. 🙂 I give you the gift of long silent hours shared on the porch, or the beach, or a run, without the need to say anything.

I give to you my vulnerability. My hopes and dreams, my fears and worries. Not so you can fix them. But so you can know me. I trust you with me.

I give you the gift of years. Years to know one another better. Years to add to the deep well of our shared experiences. Years of laughter and tears. Years of sunsets, and chocolate, and dinners with friends. Years of watching our children build lives of their own. Years of playing with grandchildren. Years of ripening and deepening and becoming.

Happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you!

P.S. The chocolates at the top of the post are yours as well. 😉

The Man Watching

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke

 

*To my lovely friend who caused me to revisit this favorite poem of a favorite poet, Thank you.

Delicious Agony

I wish I could tell you how much I miss the bells. The censer the priest uses has bells. So while I watch the vapors rise heavenward with our prayers, and while I breathe the fragrance of God, I hear the joyous sparkle of bells. But bells are incongruous with Lent. So they are gone, for now. My, how I miss them!

There is this lament.  The priest begins it all alone from behind the altar. He brings it out to us, along with that solemn, silent censer. The melody is so tragic it would break your heart even without the words. But the words, oh the words…

O Lord of hosts be with us for we have none other help, none other help in times of sorrow. O Lord of hosts, have mercy on us.

The weight of this moment is almost unbearable.

So, why can’t I stop singing this song?

I even asked for a copy of the music so I could get the melody just right. The thing is, it is not a dismal cry of despair to me. There is something very warm and right about it. This made no sense to me. Until last night…

Last night a sweet friend poured out her heart before me like water. She was in that desperate place of barely breathing….very nearly out of hope. She asked me how I had learned to live in a place of joy, how my awareness of the sacred had become so keen. Mine is a story of extravagant grace. A grace that is willing to rend, so it can heal. Beauty grown in a furrow plowed by pain. It was an anguish I did not choose, but it was a result of my choices, all the same.

I told her of my persistent striving…

“…somewhere deep inside me I believed I had to be good enough, that I had to do enough, that I had to prove that I was ok for God to really love me. I would have told you that was not true. But I lived my life in terror of not measuring up. And as long as I put up a pretty good front, I could almost convince myself that if I worked a little harder, if I did a little more, I would finally get there.”

I told her that the devastation I thought would kill me turned out to be the beginning of freedom.

“Failing epically, seeing the depth of my own depravity, liberated me from this delusion. It became clear that I would NEVER, EVER be good enough…I have come to understand grace for the astonishing, extravagant miracle it is, in a way I never could when I thought I had bought part of it myself.”

So long as I was trying to attain God on my own the idea of being without resource, of being needy, was abhorrent to me. This song would have been to me a dirge. A pathetic whine from those too lazy to improve themselves. But now, it is to me truth and rest. A grief that is the birth pains of joy. A delicious agony. God IS my only hope. He is enough.

I wish all of you could stand with me, hearing and breathing it. I couldn’t find a recording. So, for those of you as musically nerdy as myself, here it is. A gift for your Lenten walk. From my heart to yours.

Coming Clean…

“The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open…” 

I’m a reluctant housekeeper. This is not to say there are wild animals living in our home, or an accrual of partially empty food containers growing science experiments. Well, that might be hasty. I do have teenagers…

Most of the time, it takes the whole of my domestic skill just to stay ahead of the obvious piles. Dishes washed. Laundry dried and folded. But this week I am  dusting blinds, washing windows, and venturing behind furniture to battle dust bunnies (or in my case badgers). It’s “clean week” in the Orthodox Church. One of the accompanying traditions is a thorough cleansing of the home. It is another of the ways life and faith become delightfully, disturbingly tangled.

I drag chairs away from the walls and am astounded by spider webs, fuzzballs, filth. How many times have I sat comfortably in that chair with my nose in a book, completely oblivious to the  contamination?

Last night, during the Cannon of St. Andrew, a bit of furniture got dragged away from the walls. Putrid piles of pollution were exposed. In me. The chanters sang familiar stories of those who chose folly rather than faith, and I was reminded that the story is my own…

“Instead of the visible Eve, I have the Eve of the mind: the passionate thought in my flesh, showing me what seems sweet; yet whenever I taste from it, I find it bitter…I have stained the garment of my flesh, O Savior, and defiled that which was made in Thine image and likeness…I have clothed myself in the torn coat that the serpent wove for me by his counsel, and I am ashamed.”

“I alone have sinned against Thee, I have sinned more than all men; Reject me not, O Christ my Savior. Thou art the Good Shepherd: seek me, the lamb that has strayed, and do not forget me. Thou art my beloved Jesus, Thou art my Creator; in Thee shall I be justified, O Savior.”

Looks as though the both of us need some attention. My house and me. So I keep dusting and scrubbing. And as I dust, I pray. I ask God to keep unearthing the hidden things. It is a terrifying prospect, to be perfectly honest. But I would have Him restore His image in me. To rid me of that which is false. However hard He must scrub.

Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me.

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

*All quotes in the post taken from The Lenten Triodion.

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