I blog constantly. The trouble is that because [good] writing is so arduous and time consuming, most of it never makes it out of my head and on to the screen. Here are a few relics to prove it. Now's your chance to tell me if you would me to flesh out (pardon the pun you'll soon recognize) any of the following (italicized bits are transitions between posts):
What's Missing from the Modesty Debate
I'm an unabashed card carrying member of the modesty patrol, but I'm about to jump off the bandwagon and start my own band of vigilantes, because I'm starting to see where we've been coming at this all wrong....at least from the view of what it means to follow Jesus. Behind every virtue is another virtue, so if we track modesty back, we get to humility, and if we trace that to its root, we get to love. As C.S. Lewis said, true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."
You can't be humble and immodest at the same time. The attitude of "if you've got it, flaunt it" isn't humble. So what is? It's seeking to help others rather than draw attention to ourselves. Putting on a low cut shirt or skin tight jeans or a short skirt cannot be done from a place of humility. It's either insecurity, vanity, or another -ity that is self-centered.
...On a kind of related note...though I didn't get far enough to make the connection, and to be honest, I've rather forgotten what it was right now, but considering I was willing to embarrass myself, it must have been profound...
Of Dainties and Danishes
To some women, God gives dainties, and to others, danishes. I confess to having coveted my neighbors' danishes, while failing to appreciate my own dainties. It didn't help that when my children depended upon my dainties for nourishment, they still didn't grow to the size of danishes, and they turned out to be low fat!
...More bodily related stuff...what is the fixation?? I think I'm digging myself deeper here...
What If We Prayed As Often As We Peed
I'm a master at two things, which go hand in hand: procrastination and inconsistency. Take, for example (actually the point of this post), the prayer closet I created in the spring. Most days it collects dust, much like my soul. Distractions trump good intentions almost every time. And then I go looking to recalibrate my spiritual life, which is what happened three weeks ago, when I went to the reflective retreat at Mount Hermon, which was, for the second time, like entering the wardrobe and coming out in Narnia, minus the animals and the drama. I've been meaning to blog about my experience ever since I returned (which is what I meant to do a year ago when I went the first time). Obviously it hasn't happened…yet. There's that word I'm always saying: "not just YET…"
…So a funny thing happened that has nothing to do with spending time alone with God, but it's affecting it…in a good way. Even more than my soul, I neglect my body. One thing I don't do enough of is drink water. I was reading a book (being so theoretical is largely responsible for my YET life) and it talked about the importance of getting enough H20. So we bought a fancy alkalizing water filter (to help balance out our acidity) and now I'm trying to drink more water…and tea, and sometimes coffee (but caffeine
...Yup, I stopped mid-sentence. Probably the kids' fault. Life is a series of interruptions. But at least I got that far, unlike this next post which is a mere title...
How Homeschooling Liberates Women
I wrote this several weeks ago, thinking I would finish it the next day (ha!), but I've decided it stands on its own, though it only covers the first part of what I called it...
The alternate title was Failed Resolutions, Lenten Abandonment, and The Demise of the Prayer Closet, but at least one (facebook page) reader, who also happens to be a good friend, encouraged a more positive sounding outlook, so I took out some of the angst. It also turns out I've already blogged about giving up (for) Lent, so there's no need to repeat myself.
It's been an interesting week. Last Sunday evening our community group, hosted by the aforementioned good friend (hereafter referred to as AGF) and her husband, discussed whether there is such a thing as following or not following God's will when it comes to making decisions about our life (not about right and wrong). It came up because we're doing Storyline, Donald Miller's new project, and in it, he posits that when it comes to our vocation, we are free to choose what to do, same for marriage, and other life altering choices, that there is no one right path. Naturally, this brought up a discussion of Calvinism and God's sovereignty. Our church is Reformed (PCA), but not everyone in it is (welcome to Marin County). One person said that only applied to salvation. Others agreed that God doesn't expect us to consult him about what color socks we wear.
I struggled with the simplistic way that Miller offhandedly threw this out there, with absolutely no theological basis even mentioned. But as the discussion went on (including a disagreement over whether our church was really Reformed, despite my saying that our pastor told me from our first meeting that he was a "winsome Calvinist"), a light went on. If God really is sovereign, then sure, we can "choose" whatever path we want, because he's actually writing our story anyway - we just think we're choosing. Maybe this was what Miller was implying, since the book does, after all, purport to be a tool that helps us find our individual stories and how they fit in with God's greater story. My AGF pointed out the distinction between being puppets (which is often how Calvinism is misinterpreted, including by me for many years) and being characters in God's story.
Still, this doesn't mean we don't seek God in our decision making. I mentioned that way back when I did Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God study (which I didn't finish, because my husband and I were in the midst of our whirlwind courtship - same reason I dropped War and Peace, though I did recently read Anna Karenina, and we never got past the opening chapters of Boundaries in Dating...), I brought up how we are to seek to hear from God through prayer, the Bible, other people, circumstances, and his creation (I can't remember if there were more ways it said he reveals himself). I also asked everyone if, despite their "choices," things ever turn out the way they plan/envision. Everyone agreed that no, they do not. So we think we're controlling our futures, but we're not.
The very next day...I'm driving to the grocery store and having a dilemma - do I go to Trader Joe's, like I had planned, or do I go to Costco, because I need a bunch of stuff which is more economical there. As I argued both sides (I frequently identify with the lead character in Fiddler on the Roof, who always says "...on the other hand..."), I prayed that God would lead me. Approaching the exit lanes, I saw that they were quite congested, and it would be a bit challenging to get over. It felt like a wall had gone up. I decided this meant I should go to Trader Joe's.
Of course this reminded me of the previous night's discussion and the giggling about how silly it would be to invite God into those kind of petty details. Well, folks, this is how I live my life. Not all the time, but when I do, things actually turn out better. God really does care about every decision, and though he doesn't always make it clear which way to go, he does often enough, if we just ask him. And what can it hurt? Unless we don't leave the house until he audibly tells us which color socks to put on...then, it could be a problem.
...Back to Trader Joe's, and some evidence for what I've just put forth...within a few minutes of being in the store, I looked up and saw a friend from church (who is in our community group, but hadn't been able to attend the previous night because her son was sick). She was interested in what we had discussed, so I ended up debriefing her, and we had a really encouraging conversation and exchanged hugs (always good!). A little while later, I bumped into my mom, who knew I was going to be there, but wasn't sure exactly when, and she and I had a nice chat. Then, when I was in the check-out line, I saw an old friend I hadn't been in touch with for years, but lately had been thinking about more often, and wondering how she was.
Here, I should mention that this woman and I had originally met in the religion section of a bookstore, where I had engaged her in conversation, learned she was a Christian who had been hurt by the church, and so had not been in fellowship in several years. I invited her to the young adults group a bunch of friends and I had started to bring the singles from different churches together. She ended becoming part of our group and marrying a guy in it, shortly after I met and married my husband through that same group (it was called "Catalyst"). When I talked with her briefly at TJs, she told me where she and her husband were going to church - it was such a relief to know she was doing well and still following Jesus.
...If I had gone to Costco, like my logical brain was telling me to, instead of praying and being steered (literally) away from it to Trader Joe's, I would have missed those divine appointments. Yes, I may have run into people I know at Costco, but because this topic was so on my mind, I really believe this was God's way of affirming my seeking him, even in seemingly trivial decisions.
I'll talk about the re-repurposing of our bedroom closet and the war between the two places that share one location (homeschool) in my next installment, Lord willing...
Remember that prayer closet I made last spring? Like many other things, it hadn't been a consistent part of my day, but that changed over Advent. Something about the newness of the church year that invites me in, as if beginning an adventure (pun not intended). Every year I am more eager to take the familiar journey through the life of Christ and see where God leads me this time.
Before I was introduced to all things liturgical - so basically the first 35 years of my life - I found a similar kind of grounding when I read the Bible. Revisiting the same passages I had read many times before, they would always spoke something new to me, even the times (more than I care to admit) when I just flipped it open and turned to a random Scripture. Randomness, though, turned to staleness over the years. There was no rhyme or reason to my reading of the Word, except in community settings (church, small group) where we might be going through a particular book of the Bible or a topical study. So when the intense child bearing season hit, I abandoned my lifelong practice - which had become more of an obligation - of reading the Bible every day. I felt both free and fearful. I believed that my desire for the Word would return to me but I also felt some guilt and fear. I began to experience a sort of quiet spiritual renewal as I learned more about the seasons of the church year. I was drawn to the beauty and mystery of the symbolism and patterns.
When we came to our church four years ago this spring - the only evangelical liturgical church in our area - it was like finding the final piece of the puzzle I didn't know I had been solving. Since that time, I have used a lot of church year resources to guide my time alone with God, but I have yet to follow a consistent Bible reading plan. Last Advent, I planned to start the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican but used by PCA churches like ours), which would go on for the next two years. I didn't do it, and though I could have picked it up at any point, I was resistant. I came up with other creative reading schemes which I never implemented. I had amassed a number of books (which I will list in this post) that offer various plans for daily Scripture reading connected with the liturgical year, but despite that tie-in, they all felt disjointed to me.
A funny thing happened to me when we began homeschooling five years ago (this month). I became completely obsessed with chronological order. You see where this is going. Well, it's not exactly novel to begin in Genesis in January with the goal of finishing Revelation at the end of the year, but I didn't want to read the Bible straight through - I wanted to read it in order of history. So a year ago at this time, I printed out a plan for doing that and I got started, but I found myself slogging through Genesis and Job, scratching my head at things I had read all my life, but which now suddenly didn't make sense to me. That kind of "I need to go to seminary" angst was just too much for me to handle while having a marriage, raising kids, homeschooling, managing our finances, etc. So I dropped my Bible reading...again. I decided to give up my chronological OCD and just start year two of the Daily Office beginning in Advent.
When November rolled around, I started having doubts - as much as I love the liturgical year, the idea of reading in three or four different parts of the Bible simultaneously, not chronologically, and not even whole books at a time (well, sort of, but with sections skipped) just felt too choppy to me. On the other hand, reading the whole Bible in one year didn't appeal to me either. I also didn't want to totally drop the liturgical connection.
During Advent, I decided to just do the readings that correlated with the season, and (as usual) wait until January to start something more comprehensive. In the process, I realized I really liked meditating on the Sunday passages from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) throughout the week. If I could do that and also read through the Bible chronologically, that would be the best of both worlds...so that's what I decided to do. I would be consistent but not a legalist. I would vary my spiritual diet by making it a buffet, but with the same menu for me to pick and choose from each day. Yes, I have finally arrived at the point of this post (kind of like how long it took me to get here in life!).
So when I enter my prayer closet every day (the goal but not the rule) at the start of my kids' room/rest time, with my cup of tea, I can either get studious and pick up where I left off in my chronological Bible reading (with commentaries to help) or opt for a more reflective time and meditate on one of the brief passages from the RCL...or even do a little of each.
Here's what's on the books section of the menu (only the first two are new purchases - I've collected the other Bibles over the years), starting with the "study" aspect:
The Daily Bible
It's designed to be read in one year, but I am reading it at my own pace (just ignoring the dates). I chose this particular chronological Bible because it's the highest rated and I liked that it merges all four gospels into one narrative. The editor, however, is staunchly anti-Calvinist, so when I read his devotional commentary (which I'm mostly skipping), I keep that in mind.
Archaeological Study Bible
"Articles (520) covering five main categories: Archaeological Sites, Cultural and Historical Notes, Ancient Peoples and Lands, the Reliability of the Bible, and Ancient Texts and Artifacts" This resource provides historical and cultural context (the world scene), as well as some apologetics, which especially helps with some of the stickier parts of the Old Testament. Homeschooling and a "larger story" (is there a theological term for this besides "gospel centered"?) theology have turned me into a history nut.
(Finally finishing this post 2.5 weeks after I started it, so I'm not taking the time to put in the other links)
Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible (ESV, NKJV, NLT, The Message)
This one is especially good for meditation on a verse or passage. While one word or phrasing may not jump out at me in one translation, it may in another. It helps to create an overall impression of the chapter by reading it repeatedly in the different versions. And it's useful for clarity/understanding. I wish it had the NASB or NIV instead of The Message.
ESV Collection (went a little crazy when that translation first came out!)
ESV Study Bible - the best of the three
Reformation Study Bible - hit or miss
Literary Study Bible - ironically, this is my least favorite
Other Bibles (not listing them all because that would be embarrassing)
Orthodox Study Bible - love the metaphorical interpretations, patterns, symbolism in the commentary
KJV Devotional Bible - for when I want to hear it in the King's English and maybe get a profound quote
Mosaic Bible (NLT) - this comes more into play in the next section, but basically it takes about passages from all three years of the RCL, creating a theme for each week, with artwork, prayers and devotions (that part is the front of the Bible, while the Bible itself is in the back - it's nice because they put page numbers next to the scriptures to look up).
...Now for the more "meditative" resources...
Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)
Every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and two scriptures in the New Testament. I don't usually get to all them each week, and since I'm in the Old Testament in my (chronological) Bible reading, I generally choose the psalm and NT readings. To meditate on it, I may use Lectio Divina (doesn't come naturally to me but I keep trying) or use one or more of the following books (all but Living the Lectionary have a daily Bible reading plan and other resources, but I mostly just use the RCL related material):
Mosaic Bible (see description above)
The Bible Through The Seasons by Nicholas Connolly
Living the Lectionary - Year A by Geoff Wood
A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Upper Room)
More Liturgical Resources
Bread and The Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Orbis Press)
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Orbis Press)
Eternal Seasons: A Liturgical Journey with Henri M. Nouwen
Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross
The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittser
...then there is the "theme" for the year, which I will share about in a separate post, and that has its own books, but I'll just give you a taste of it: God as shepherd and as Lamb of God.
Other reflective type books I'm reading this year so far
Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson
The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther De Waal
Soul searching type books I'm also reading
Inside Out by Larry Crabb - read this back in my early 20s, and it was profound, so I'm revisiting it
Storyline - doing this workbook style "narrative of my life" with my church community group
There you have it - my spiritual menu for 2014, subject to seasonal change (sorry, I couldn't resist). I can tell you I got off to a good start and then hit the 20 minute...er, two week lull. So I - gasp - haven't been in my prayer closet in a week in a half! The good news is that there is no pressure. God is not in a rush, so why should I be? He is always with me whether I'm in my prayer closet or not. I am growing whether I read any or all of the above good stuff every day or not for a few weeks. But I do notice the difference when I take that time out. I crave it. I get kind of cranky without it. Over time, that does cause problems. So there's no deadline on any of the above, but there are many good reasons to race to my father's arms and sit awhile in His presence, feasting on His goodness.
(Note: I really did eat the food in the picture, and it was all very good. My mom and I went to lunch at Park 121 in Sonoma. If you're ever in Wine Country, you should try it. )
Rather than passively reflecting back on the past year, I'm going to spend the coming year traveling through the last decade and then some, all the way to the founding of my family. Before I explain how my time machine will work, here's a little background:
I got married 12+ years ago, pregnant a month later, and then over the next five years, had three children, moved to five different houses, and relocated our business twice. A little over two years after we finally settled down and stopped having kids, we unexpectedly started homeschooling. That was five years ago this month.
Lots of other things happened during that time, but guess what didn't happen? Filing. As in papers didn't get sorted or purged. They piled up and got put into boxes. The only organization to those boxes is two categories: 1) the children's artwork 2) everything else. These boxes currently line our upstairs hallway. Partly because we don't have a garage and partly because I'm delusional - I have continued believing that if they're visible, I will deal with them. Instead, the collection keeps relocating, and on average, a new box is added to it every year (in each of the two categories).
I admit to having hoarding on one side of my family. Thankfully, there are minimalists on the other side. So I tend to collect papers and books, while frequently purging other stuff. In fairness to myself, I am continually giving away books, but new (used) ones seem to constantly replace them. So it's the papers that are the bane of my existence. And after that, it's the digital files, namely the visual souvenirs of our life stored in iPhoto, which also go unsorted, and therefore unprinted.
Back to the future...er, present, and how that relates to the past. Enter the phrase "reflect and project." I am a future oriented person and an idealist. Which has led to more delusions. Like believing that there's a pot of gold at the end of my boxes. That when I finally have discarded 80% of what's in them and organized the remainder, I can then begin to fully live. Order will bring me peace, out of which will flow creativity and harmony. It's actually rather similar to how many view a new year - as the opportunity for a clean slate. That if we can just put the past behind us and head out on the right path, it will lead us to the self and the life we've always dreamed of.
Well, I've decided that united, the above delusions can actually divide and conquer. To deconstruct my idol of idealism, I must deconstruct my piles. I'm calling it Reflect and Project. During one hour of the kids' afternoon rest time, I will alternate Reflect days with Project days (hereafter referred to as RD & PD). On RDs, I will sort and file one box (when I get through all of them, I will move on to organizing digital files). On PDs, I will create - write, make art, or work on my MMTIC certification. Reflect signifies both processing through the memories resurrected through finding old pieces of my life and the idea of reflecting God's image through implementing order. Project means both its noun form, as in creative project, and its verb form - projecting into the future, as in goal setting based on future vision.
...So an hour a day (five days a week) is devoted to the past and the future, which means I hope to be living in the present most of the other 23 hours a day. And how do I intend to do that? Well, I've got another hour a day goal, but this one is a limit. On my internet activity. That's right - one hour a day for reading articles and interacting on social media (doesn't include productivity stuff like renewing library books, banking, ordering household goods, etc.). I have a timer app on my browser that shows me how long I've been browsing and it's broken down into websites, so I can see the time spent on each one. The way that I'm hoping to accomplish this - gulp - is by giving myself that hour when the kids have their screen time, since that's their limit as well. That both keeps me accountable and ensures that the computer doesn't divert my attention from the kids. It will stay off until that hour, and since I rarely text and don't like typing on my mobile devices, I will just use them for checking email, writing brief responses when needed, and doing the "work" stuff I listed earlier.
Another reason for the limitation on my internet usage is because I really want to return to writing on a consistent basis. I had hoped to begin that last spring, but apparently I wasn't ready. So I'm planning to purchase a nifty word processor type keyboard which can send data to the computer. We bought our 11 year-old an electronic typewriter last year, which she loves, but the correction feature conked out, so she and I are going to both love using this new writing instrument. My goal is to blog once a week and to begin working on outlines for some book ideas I've been pondering.
Before I go on with my other goals, I should back up a bit to the theme that ties it all together. It actually relates to my previous post. Just as the the Sunday morning church service models a pattern for worship during the week, our days have a liturgy, guided by our priorities. We can think of Sundays as the feasts of the church year, and the rest of the week as ordinary time. It's easy to lose our spiritual focus during those warm, lazy days of summer and hectic weeks of fall when we're not following a pattern of seasonal worship. So, too can we drift from what really matters as we go about the business of our daily, routine lives.
To build a template (so to speak) of hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly living that adds up to a purposeful year, which year upon year creates a meaningful life, the foundation can only be one thing: It's what Jesus said was the greatest command: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. So "my" time must be based on activities that bring every part of me into worship (enjoying God and glorifying Him) - my intellect, my emotions, my body, and my spirit. When we are loving God (which we can only do by receiving his love), we can follow what Jesus said was the next greatest command: Love others as yourself.
I talked about a couple of the major ways I intend to love God with my mind in 2014 - there are more of them, as well as goals for my heart, body, and spirit (not that they're all neatly compartmentalized like that) that I will share in my next post...
Upon Advent Eve...
Life is a liturgy. We follow a pattern of worship not just on Sunday mornings and through the church year, but in our seven day week - in each day and each hour. We need structure and spontaneity, freedom and discipline, planned time and blank spaces. The liturgy of our lives should be purposeful and flexible - day by day, moment by moment. If we aren't intentional about ordering our time, then our pattern of worship (which is what every second of our lives is) will not be consistently meaningful or guiding us to grow. Repeated thoughts and actions are what make us who we are, so liturgy forms us. It's soil that roots us - do we want to be rooted in this earth or in Christ's kingdom? It is the rhythm of our lives - do we want to dance to the music of the world or the song of our Savior? I want to follow the Son, flourishing in the light, as I joyfully move in worship of my Creator.
The long and short of it is here. My first post (which started the thread), this post, and my last post tell most of the story, but you can also read the posts in between (by others and me), and I recommend that you do, since it was quite a lively and informative conversation, with various viewpoints regarding Classical Conversations (and classical education in general) well represented. Speaking of views, it got over 4000 of them! #homeschooling #CC #WTM
In homeschooling news, I lasted all of three weeks as a CC Essentials tutor. Long story short: too much prep and too little intuitiveness. A language program designed by engineering types didn't mesh with me at all, though my eleven year-old daughter, whose memory and technical thinking surpasses mine, was mastering it. So we're back to Writing with Skill and Rod & Staff grammar. Because I had signed the younger two up for a geometry art class during the first half of the Essentials time, I'm now using that hour to do logic with my oldest, which we both enjoy immensely - it comes pretty naturally to her and it's enlightening, as well as stimulating, to me. We also seem to laugh a lot. As for the Essentials class (all of two students), our CC director decided to take over teaching it.
Foundations is going well - the kids like it and I really don't have to do much, since it's just a supplement to our curriculum. They learn most of the memory work in class, and then review with the CD and tri-fold board on their own during the week. One thing that bugs me (okay, there are several) is that they use classical Latin rather than ecclesiastical, which is what Memoria Press uses, our Latin program for the past four years. I cringe whenever they say "muss" and "tiss" instead of "moose" and "teese". Another concern is that as the history sentences increase (we're up to five facts), some of the students are starting to jumble up the ones that sound alike, so names and dates are mismatched because of certain prepositional phrases at the beginning or in the middle of the sentence. I noticed this as I quizzed them at the end of class time (parents help the tutors as needed throughout class time - I rotate being in each of my three kids' classes). I'm hoping that with correction and repetition, this will iron itself out, but part of me thinks that this is the natural outcome of memorizing information without meaning/context. That was a hard pill for me to swallow initially, but I convinced myself that because we are going through the Story of the World (and have already done one complete four year cycle with my oldest), it would be okay. I'm trying to stay convinced of what hooked me - that going ahead in history is putting in the pegs upon which we will hang more knowledge in the future...but part of me worries...
This year is definitely an experiment - it's our first time not doing our homeschool group's co-op (we did it for the past three years since its inception, which was a grassroots effort), but they have adopted a programmed approach this year as well - doing the Odyssey of the Mind competition. I had already signed up for CC when I found out about that - I knew we couldn't do both and I wanted to stick with what seemed a better fit with our educational philosophy. The kids don't seem to care what the format is, as long as they get to be in a group learning setting once a week. Sometimes I think it would be better for us not to do any co-op (and in fact, Susan Wise Bauer said at the convention I attended last year that she doesn't recommend them), but hands-on stuff and memorization are some of my weaker areas, and CC covers those with a creative approach - songs and hand motions for the memory work (I would never do it that way), as well as science experiments and fine arts, but it's all pretty abbreviated, since it's only a three hour block of time, which also includes presentations and a few other elements. I like the variety and that they get to be with other kids, but I'm not sure yet about the content's enrichment value - hoping that will be clear by the end of the school year.
I'm on the fence about Challenge, which initially was what drew me to CC, but after reading more about it on the The Well Trained Mind forum, as well as seeing the curriculum on the CC site, I'm not sure it would be the best for my oldest. Ironically, it doesn't look challenging enough - she's definitely already ahead in Latin and literature, nor do I like the idea of abandoning the history and science cycles...it really would force me to choose between that and the WTM way. The monetary and time investment (it basically has to be your whole curriculum) is questionable to me...then again, it might be a good way to transition her into more independence during the middle school years (even if we didn't stay with it for high school), thus making less work for me, so I could focus more on our younger ones. We'll have to see...
I'm thinking about attempting to read through all the works in The Well Educated Mind over the next four years, starting with medieval times (where we are in our history studies this year), and concluding with ancients (the year that my oldest begins the rhetoric stage), so I was pleased to find this chronological list, and am posting (with a pic for pinterest) in case anyone else might want to follow the same reading plan. The Well Educated Mind organizes the reading lists by genre, and within that chronologically, but I would rather read different kinds of literature from the same time period, especially since that will flow with our homeschooling.
When I was a freshman at Westmont College (the only year I would spend there), second semester I found myself in the little white chapel next to the pond almost every night (even though it was quite a hike from my dorm), and at other times as well. I was homesick (okay, lovesick, too - pining for a good friend that I hoped would become more - he didn't), lonely, and grieving the absence of my roommate (and kindred spirit) who had left after our first semester (to be with the boyfriend she thought she would marry - she didn't).
I felt such an aching that I longed for God to soothe. I didn't want to be where I was, but I had to for a few more months, so I sought solace in that prayer chapel, a place free of distractions, quiet and peaceful, where I could be alone with my Creator and Savior. It had a prayer notebook where chapel comers could write to God, which is what I did. And I read what others wrote. In fact, I even made some friends that way, because we sometimes wrote encouraging responses, thus beginning a dialogue. But my main purpose for going to the prayer chapel was to seek God, to be consoled by his presence, and to hear him speak life to me through his Word.
I also liked the security in the ritual of "escaping" to this private place. I knew I could go there at any time and that I would be refreshed. That I had a secret space to pour out my heart and to come undone with no one but God watching, and holding me next to his heart, even if I couldn't always feel that with my emotions. I would come away with that peace that passes all understanding, which Jesus promised his followers. I might be romanticizing it a bit, but whatever happened during that season of my life, I always remember it as the time when I experienced the deepest intimacy with God.
When I left Westmont, I sorely missed that sacred place. The heartache of unrequited love (actually more of a crush but I still felt devastatingly disappointed), the confusion of navigating my educational and career path, and many more challenging circumstances made me pine this time not for a guy or even a friend, but for a special meeting place with God. Anytime I would go on a retreat, if there was a place of prayer - be it a chapel or garden - I would gravitate there. I even started a flickr group specifically for people to post pictures of such small sacred spaces. I made up my mind that one day when I was married and had my own home, my husband would build a prayer chapel in the backyard.
Fast forward twenty years from my twenty year-old self, and now this forty year-old has finally entered the promised land. It doesn't quite look the way I imagined. It's not even a building, but then again, I have no backyard to put one in. And no one built it for me - it started with a simple thought I had one day while freshening up in the bathroom (funny how my best ideas often originate there). Our closet is attached to the master bath, so I began thinking...wouldn't it be nice if instead of using this tiny room for clothing storage, I turned it into a little spa where I could give people facials? Then I remembered that I wasn't an aesthetician but a homeschooling mom who couldn't even wash her own face on a regular basis, let alone provide pampering to others.
Another idea emerged. It was true that if I moved the clothes out, the approximate four foot by (just under ) six foot closet could actually be converted to a room. And if not an actual spa, wouldn't it be nice to have a restful room, a sanctuary of sorts? Thus was began the project of repurposing our master bedroom closet into a prayer closet (alternate names: upper room, secret place, sabbath chamber, sacred space, rest spot, quiet nook, hidden sanctuary).
Once everything was cleared out (I moved our clothes into the kids' closets - we may eventually get a wardrobe, in which case this idea will have birthed two magical places!), it was just a question of what to put in it. When I thought about seating, I kept picturing a moon chair. That ended up being the one extravagance of our humble prayer closet, but it was totally worth the splurge, as it has turned out to be exactly the right chair - I feel hugged whenever I sit in it! After taking one child at a time into the prayer closet, I realized it was a space where two or less could gather, so I wanted comfy, inviting seating for a child as well. That turned out to be a makeshift "lounger" I created out of throw pillows and a comforter (our winter one right now). When I'm alone (which is most common), it serves as a foot rest.
I didn't want to clutter up the place with stuff, and it's tight quarters, so I decided on one small, narrow bookshelf we already had. The shelves are for the Bible, my journal, and books to aid in prayer and worship. I started with just the basics, so as not overcomplicate things, but gradually I will add others we have that are helpful for practicing liturgy, sabbath, and the contemplative life.
The top of the bookshelf is mainly for the oil lamp, which allows me to adjust the brightness, unlike the large overhead light. Its only drawbacks are a faint odor and that it gives off a fair amount of heat, especially with the door closed (I sometimes leave it ajar) and if I have it turned up, so I also bought an aromatherapy diffuser plug-in halogen nightlight that has a dimmer switch. I put a few drops of essential oil - usually lavender - in the glass dish and its fragrance fills the room. I also keep some strongly scented candles on the overhead shelf (where I store memorabilia - pictures, journals, etc.), so that the room always has a distinct, gently floral aroma. Sometimes when I come upstairs to go to the bathroom in the middle of our school day, I'll splash water on my face, a spritz of rosewater toner, and then open the prayer closet door, inhale the sweetness, reminding me that in a little while I'll be able to retreat here. Just a glimpse of the room and a breath of its scent is soothing and calming.
Walls. Not the emotional kind. I'm talking white space. I knew I wanted imagery to evoke beauty and serenity in this special space, so I finally put to good use those old calendar pages I had saved - of Greece, the Mediterranean, whimsical garden scenes, waterfalls, Scriptures - and put them up, but not too too many, mind you. It's kind of funny because we've lived in our house seven years and I've still not hung our pictures on the walls!
Another thing about the lighting and the windowless space that occurred to me is that it's similar to what it would have been like it the catacombs, those underground passageways in Rome where the early church met in secret to worship (we were just studying that in our homeschool history). Ironic that their light shone brighter in those dark caves than out in the sun where the worship of of Christ was forbidden.
For the past year, my husband and I have been reading books about Sabbath keeping, and we've been trying to practice that in our family. Keeping the sabbath is a tangible way of seeking the rest and peace of God. By setting aside one day each week to cease from labor, consumerism, social media, etc., and to actively pursue the things of the spirit - in body, mind, and heart - it trains and empowers us to live that way in the midst of whatever pressures might surround us during the week.
I had the epiphany that this prayer closet symbolizes, and actually is a vehicle for that sabbath rest. It's a tangible expression of stopping and breathing and focusing on what really matters, and giving all my cares over to Jesus, and receiving his love, grace, truth, and whatever "word" he might speak to me for encouragement and growth.
A place. A day. These are actual solid tools, props if you will, to take all our good intentions and actually apply them. Illuminating the candles to start the sabbath. Lighting the oil lamp to begin a "quiet time." Saying blessings over the bread and the wine to remind ourselves of why we're at the Lord's Table and what we're entering into. Opening the Word to feast on God's goodness as I come to him alone, hungry and thirsty. These spaces, these ceremonies, these objects - they are examples of how our senses can be a gateway into what we cannot physically touch or taste or smell or hear or see. Liturgy - patterns that are repeated - engage all parts of who God made us. Through repetition, we go deeper and deeper into the knowledge of our Lord, becoming more intimate with him, just as our routines and traditions build closeness and strengthen the bonds in families - between husband and wife, between parents and children.
I'm only just beginning to use the prayer closet, and not nearly as often or as consistently as I want to, but already it has affected me deeply, and not just me. I have had very special times in it with each of my children. Quiet cuddling. Heart to heart talks. Prayerful problem solving. And each of them feels special when they get their alone time in it with me. Even just a few minutes, because usually that's all it is. Our middle child (age 8) set up her own prayer space underneath her desk! I nearly cried when she showed me. It brought home the truth that we lead by example more than words.
One last thing - for now - about this special space. I find that spending private time with God enhances the my experience of him in community. When I come to church on Sunday morning, the worship is that much sweeter when I have prepared my heart for it...or rather, God has. It also helps fill me with his grace and love, so that I have more of that to give to others. I'm not just in church desperate to be ministered to, but instead, I can minister from a full heart. Admittedly, I'm not totally there yet, but just like having a place for church helps motivate us to gather with the Body of Christ, so does the presence of a prayer closet invite me to come and meet with my Lord.
Reading this article about a ninety-five year-old woman who was one of Hitler's food tasters, I was struck by the conclusion:
Now at the end of her life, she feels the need to purge the memories by talking about her story. "For decades, I tried to shake off those memories," she said. "But they always came back to haunt me at night."
The walking wounded among us are not just holocaust survivors. Now is the time to begin dealing (with the past) and healing. Not wallowing in it, but praying through it, and in some cases, getting counseling, maybe for a season...or seasons...and not just for yourself, but for those close to you, with whom you are most likely to perpetuate the cycle of pain, if you don't stop it in its tracks.
We are born broken from our inherited sinful nature, and then the broken people who raise us inflict more damage, but when we invite God into the pain of the past, he picks up the pieces and makes us into magnificent mosaics. Fragile but held together by the strength of his love and radiant with his beauty. We are still his image bearers, even with the marks of our brokenness. And he joins us in our scars, his pierced hands and feet reminding us of his limitless love for those who will receive it.