The Journey of Lent

I have been ranting a bit about the word “journey.” Like so many words, if we use it too much, it loses meaning. Lately I’ve been hearing too much about the cancer journey. A friend now receives regular posts from a blog called “Your Young Adult Cancer Journey.”  We talk about our faith journey, our life journey, our vocational journey, our journey to adulthood. When someone is near death, we pray for their journey to the next chapter. I recently preached a sermon on the Transfiguration gospel that begged for the word, and I refused to use it–instead, I talked about the gospel being about movement, about Jesus’ trek to Jerusalem, about the mountain top as a way-station, and about our call to trudge on level ground.

(My sermon looked like this. This is a change for me in my homiletical journey…what do your sermons look like when you’re ready to move from preparation to delivery?)

All journey-bashing aside, those of us who follow Jesus are, in fact, embarking on what we often refer to as our Lenten journey which is, at least for me, very much like all of life. Lent is a time to look at what I let between me and God, a time to clean up and a time to pare down. It is a specific journey through the calendar toward Holy Week and Easter, and also a journey toward only God knows where. I came across a poem recently by Ellen Bass which might be my very favorite poem this week, “Asking Directions in Paris.” You can watch and listen to the poet read it here, and I hope you do. If you don’t, here are the lines that stopped me in my tracks:

And as you…set off full of groundless hope,
you think this must be how it is
with destiny: God explaining
and explaining what you must do,
and all you can make out is a few
unconnected phrases, a word or two, a wave
in what you pray is the right direction.


If you find yourself on a Lenten journey or any other kind of journey, I pray that you will, indeed, find yourselves full of hope, groundless or otherwise, that God will lead you in the right direction.


Psalm 143, appointed for Ash Wednesday


Stage directions from the Bible

I am a huge fan of the works of William Shakespeare. Like a lot of people in strange lines of work, I was an English major, and so I was exposed to a lot of Shakespeare, not just the obligatory eighth-grade reading of MacBeth and tenth-grade reading of Romeo and Juliet, but throughout college. Last fall I had an ongoing discussion with my son about why it would behoove him, as a possible college English major himself, to take a Shakespeare elective in his last semester of high school. (He is having none of it.)

randjAs I’ve reflected these past few weeks on the Gospel of Mark, the thing that has me thinking about Shakespeare is not any particular play, but stage directions. Shakespeare’s stage directions were always very spare, essential three- or four-word instructions that Shakespeare left, instructions that always included a verb and only more if absolutely necessary. The most famous of these comes from “The Winter’s Tale”: Exit, pursued by a bear. Somewhere in the development of playwriting—and if your studies took you out of the 17th century you will know more than I do about this—stage directions became far more than the bare essentials. Some playwrights seem to need to spell out every minute detail of a scene, leaving nothing to individual directors, producers or, heaven forbid, the actors.

Mark’s gospel is like Shakespeare’s stage directions. Especially this Epiphany season. Our gospels resound with Epiphany verbs. These are the verbs that reflect what Jesus did. They also are our one-word stage directions for being followers: Come, proclaim, repent, believe, call, leave, go, follow, teach, heal. 

Much is left to the imagination. And, we hope, to the Spirit. As we strive to follow, believe, go, or teach, no one is going to tell us where to stand or what to wear or what to do with our hands. That’s up to us. Gloriously challenging and freeing. What Epiphany verbs are going to direct you in the coming weeks?

Boring Travelogue #2

In which Sara forgets what day it is, we expand our geographical glossary, and meditate on mattresses.

It’s finally happened. Two months into my four-month sabbatical, I’ve forgotten what day of the week it is. The only reason I can come reasonably close to naming the date is because the Fourth of July happened and I heard no fireworks and saw no American flags. I thought of friends with various Independence Day traditions, and while I miss the friends with whom I associate the holiday, I don’t miss the celebratory rituals.

On Day Five of the Coast-to-Coast walk, or C2C, Mark and I left Grasmere and hiked as quickly as we could the 7 or 8 miles to Patterdale, where we had copiously arranged to meet our son who was flying from Portland to Chicago to Manchester, and then taking the train north from Manchester to Windemere and then a bus from Windemere to Patterdale. We got to Patterdale long before the bus was due to arrive and checked in with the hotel which doubles as a bus stop, to learn for the first time that the bus we’d planned to meet only ran on weekends; this was Tuesday. The end of the story was that Nathan managed to take a cab to our B&B up the road and was all settled in by the time we finally got there. He was jet-lagged and miserable, it was a miserable, wet afternoon, the 400-year-old farmhouse where we stayed smelled like wet dog and cows, and I came down with a hideous cold. But….

On Day Six we said goodbye to all that and hike the most strenuous leg of the whole trip: 16 miles, mostly uphill (or so it felt) from Patterdale to Shap.

IMG_1734The Coast-to-Coast is like a small town that goes with you: you see the same people, not necessarily every day, but every second or third day, either on the trail, or at the pub later that day, or over breakfast. On the fifth day it seemed like everyone started at once (perhaps because all of our guidebooks had stressed what a long hard day it would be), but the trail was crowded, a long line of hikers going up the winding path from the town to this high mountain lake.

IMG_1743I’ve posted elsewhere about the Shap Abbey, but it’s worth mentioning again; in the middle of nowhere on the eastern edge of the Lake District, it’s what walkers see about 30 minutes before entering the town of Shap. Shap Abbey was the last abbey to be founded in England in 1199, and the last to be dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540. The original tower is all that remains in tact. After walking 16 miles I didn’t really have the chi to actually tour the abbey, so in this photo you’re seeing everything I saw!

IMG_1746Day Seven was a much shorter hike, from Shap to the village of Orton. By now the landscape has changed considerably; we are definitely not in the Lake District anymore, but walking along stone walls through pasture after pasture in what I have always thought of as traditional English countryside; rolling hills and open spaces stitched together by stone walls and dotted with occasional trees and picturesque barns. The weather treated us better and better as the day went on and we could actually see our shadows by the time we got to Orton. We stayed in The Best B&B ever, the kind of place you might like to stay for a long weekend, not just a night between hikes. You can look it up.

IMG_1758On Day Eight we walked from Orton to Kirkby-Stephen, one of the booming metropolises along the way. (Meaning: more than one place to eat, an ATM, and the first traffic light we’ve seen since leaving London.) We had a fabulous dinner and explored the town and the church, which is named simply, Kirkby-Stephen Parish Church. The highlight of the church for me–worthy of a blog post all its own, perhaps–is the presence of the “Loki Stone,” the Norse god of mischief “Christianized” (according to the authorities) into a devil in chains. The trickster Loki comes to us from the Vikings and has been in place at the church in Kirkby-Stephen since the ninth or tenth century. Who knew?

The Toll of Ashland

IMG_1609 - Version 2Twelve nights in a lovely cottage, a tree-house built on top of a garage with a view to die for. As the late-afternoon wind comes up, the place is filled with the sound of wind chimes. As the wind dies down, the hummingbirds take over. After dark, the hummingbirds are quiet, and frog-sounds keep me company all night long.

One thousand views of the mountain under the ever-changing southern Oregon sky.

One hand-knit sweater completed. 648 stitches cast on for ruffled sea-creature scarf.

Seven great workouts at Anytime Fitness, with calluses to prove it.

IMG_1601One worship service at Trinity Church, on Trinity Sunday, during which we sang all seven verses of I bind unto myself this day. Several journeys through the Trinity labyrinth.

Six visits to the Bloomsbury Coffeehouse, six delicious lattes, an undisclosed number of which were accompanied by a chocolate-dipped coconut macaroon. (Coconut is paleo, right?)

One hundred pages read (so far) of Joseph Anton.

Three great hikes, one much longer than planned, along a trail aptly named the White Rabbit Trail. One peek at Mt. Shasta. Can you see it? It’s there, right in the center of the photo hiding out like so much beauty of the world when we try to capture it.


A four-day visit, mid-stay with Mr. Wonderful.

One decadent dinner at Lark’s.

Three Plays: Two Trains Running, King Lear, and My Fair Lady. All were great, but only King Lear was both great and awe-inspiring.

Several heart-to-heart talks with myself about….myself! In which I reflect on received tradition about the family temperament vs. reality.

Ten thousand words written, more or less.

In which I attempt to reconcile the Spirit of Pentecost with my intense desire for solitude

pentecostMay 19 was the Feast of Pentecost, which marks the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and the descent of the Holy Spirit among us, life continuing on the other side of the Cross. You can read all about it. It’s been one of my favorite feasts of the church year ever since my husband and I attended Grace Memorial for the very first time. It was Pentecost, 1997, and the youth group created the rushing wind described in Acts 2 by running up and down the aisles holding opposite ends of an enormous banner that flew over–barely–the heads of all of us in the pews.

lego crowdThis year, I’m on sabbatical (into Week 3) and had a rare opportunity to get up on Sunday morning and worship wherever I wanted. I had many wonderful options and spent several days weighing them. The result? I went to the gym. This is something I do almost every Sunday before church, but my sabbatical celebration this week was to sleep in, drink tea in bed, and get to the gym right around the time someone was about to proclaim the Pentecost Gospel at Saint David’s. What I found was that the gym feels different at 10:30 on a Sunday morning than it does at 7:00. For one thing, there are more people. Lots and lots of them with yoga mats tucked under their arms. People working out in pairs, twos and threes, not just muscle-men who take turns being the spotter and the grunter and otherwise hardly speak, but dyads and triads of friends and couples, having fun together, visiting and laughing. The church of gym, a communion if ever there was one. I was glad to see everyone having such a great time, and glad for my ear-buds which provide solitude in the midst of community.

(The day before, I’d spent seven hours in a 12×12 room with 16 other people, talking. We called it a “retreat.” The people are wonderful and the conversation memorable and worthwhile, but a retreat it wasn’t. I–the extrovert–came away exhausted, wanting to tear my hair out and shout, like Liza Doolittle: Words, words, words!)

pentecost cupcakesIt was odd to go through Pentecost Sunday without any of the traditional things we do on Pentecost: proclaim the gospel or sing in other languages, wear tongues-of-fire red, or eat church birthday cupcakes. Instead, I spent the day looking forward to getting away from it all. That seems incongruous, to me. Pentecost is a community celebration if ever there was one, if only because for many churchgoers, it is the equivalent to the last day of school and the beginning of summer vacation.

solitudeWhat my intense eagerness for solitude has to do with Pentecost, I’ve decided, is that just as Pentecost is all about breaking barriers between people in order to establish communities of Jesus-followers imbued with the power of the Spirit, so can solitude, and time away from traditional forms of worship be a form of breaking barriers and crossing boundaries. Especially for a church-lady-extrovert like me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

My first book

A few people know I’m working on something that most of the time I’m not quite ready to call a book. Everyone who knows that about me (and probably anyone who’s every written a book), knows that I vacillate between excitement and despair about writing my first book at an age that seems to be advancing far more quickly than the number of pages I write. I get morose at times when I regret not writing more, earlier in life. So imagine my joy when my mother sent me, in the mail, preciously wrapped in well-used red tissue paper, my first book.

It’s called “The Art Book.”

This is a book about art that isn’t done in pen or pencil.

I really hated to draw back then. Still do. Odd that nearly two decades before stumbling upon the Jesus story, despite my family’s best efforts to protect me from such things, I figured out some way to fashion a cross. Hmm.

“Another is tye-dye”

Tie-dye was big then, publication date circa 1967. We lived in Greenwich Village across the street from a designer tie-dye shop that custom-dyed clothes out of silk, satin, and velvet. Remember the purple tie-dye pantsuit Janis Joplin wore on the Dick Cavett show? (Of course you do, right?) I helped stir it around in a boiling pot of purple dye when I was about nine.

Paper Flowers

I could’ve made paper flowers out of tissue paper all day long if anyone would let me.

And photographs….Don’t you wish you had a shirt like that?

What about your first book? Have you written it yet? Do tell.

What’s new?

When my son was five, our family traveled around the United Kingdom for five weeks. I went on a knitting frenzy, wanting to find locally-spun yarn on each of the British Isles. I knit in the car, knit in every one of our B&Bs before breakfast and after supper, knit in pubs. Nathan desperately wanted me to teach him to knit. In a busy, crowded yarn shop in Oban, Scotland I picked up some child-sized needles and we sat down before dinner that night to have our first lesson. He sat patient and wide-eyed while I cast on enough for a little square, maybe 16 stitches. Soon he became distracted and I could tell he was fast losing interest.

“Don’t you want to learn to knit?” I asked.

“Yes. But I don’t want to make a square, Mommy. I want to make a sweater.”

Learning new things is hard. Really hard. It’s one thing to learn the correct pronunciation of someone’s name or where to find a great new restaurant or even how to use WordPress. It’s another thing to learn to make a sweater from nothing, to learn a language, to learn a whole….thing. To stick with it through thick and thin, through the rush of fantasy and the sludge of reality.

I’m trying to learn some new things. Not a new language, exactly, but kind of. And we all know that learning a language gets harder the older we get. A friend writes beautifully about the power of words, the cozy fabric we wordy types weave for ourselves and wrap around our shoulders to comfort us and warm us. The words we cook up into a hearty stew, stirring together flavors, textures, and smells mixing like so many metaphors.  Lovely, right? Now, imagine doing it in Chinese. Or Sanskrit. Or taking Intro to Anatomy at the age of 53. Or deciding to become a barista so you can make beautiful pictures in latte foam and learn that all that is actually about something entirely different: physics (that class you never took) and chemistry (that one you barely passed).

Sometimes I’m not so sure my menopausal 50-something brain can handle learning a whole lot of new things. Certainly not happily. Certainly not with the kind of comfort of dipping into a delicious new poet or a book recommended by a trusted friend. It’s a stretch, and who wants to stretch? Not I, said the Little Red Hen.

What about you? What are you learning? Where are you stretching?

Wish I’d said that!

This morning my dear brother, who lives on the other side of the world where they do things differently, sent me this piece from the New York Times. I can’t imagine why it made him think of me! It’s worth reading. Really. Even if you’re too busy. I tend to alternately rail against what the author calls “the busy trap,” and fall into it at the same time.

A few years ago I found a way to cure myself of saying I was too busy. I imagined how it would sound to someone who asked how I was doing or what I’d been up to, if I substituted the word important for busy. “I couldn’t possibly hang out with you on Saturday, I’m too important.” Or: “Things are going well, but I’m just so important!” See what I mean?

I am daily becoming a fan of leisure. I still fail at sitting around and truly slowing down, but I’ve gotten pretty good at scheduling non-work activities that thrill me rather than grill me. And sometimes I even chill.

Where are you on the busy-chill spectrum?

Reading my father into Neruda

His hands shook so wildly he could not feed himself,
and as I watched his wife I wondered:
Is it possible to feed someone and not love them?
The love was part of the food.

Something in Neruda made him zigzag around “To Sadness”
(a la tristeza)—
All about black wings and longed-for darkness
Tristeze, necesito/tu ala negro
And wild scissor-lines around “Goodbyes”:
And, newly arrived, I promptly said goodbye…
left everywhere for somewhere else.
de todas partes a otra parte…

A brief interlude: small-e epiphany poetry

Do you have an epiphany poem or story? A small-e-epiphany poem? Or a story about an illuminating discovery? What the heck is an epiphany? you might ask. I like what Merriam-Webster has to say:

  1. a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
  2. an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
  3. an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
  4. a revealing scene or moment

With some friends I’m hosting a twelfth night party and we want to share non-scriptural stories and poems about epiphany. If you’ld leave yours as a comment here, I’d be most grateful.