Friday, February 27, 2009


The past couple of nights, my husband didn't come home from work until late, because he was taking a CPR course, required by his side job of teaching karate. This meant that, after the kids were in bed, I had to do our normal evening chores by myself.

Usually, I read to Adam while he picks up the downstairs, and then he reads to me while I do the dishes. We've found that the incentive of what happens next? in the novel is a good prod towards the what needs to be cleaned next? of our housework.

But I was by myself on Ash Wednesday, so there was to be no skirmish in Spain or space battle over Lytaxin or heroics of the Redcrosse Knight for me.

So I thought I'd listen to a podcast for company while I got our living area ready for the next day, clearing the detritus inevitably left by the playing of four young children.

But, somehow - and maybe it was remembering that it was the beginning of Lent - I felt drawn instead to completing my chores in silence.

So I did, even though I didn't want to.

Usually "why?" and "can I have?" and "Mommy" obscure my background thoughts, and I only get to hear the thoughts I take the effort to think, rather than the ones that are just floating around, unnoticed.

So what was there? An old love song, and one I didn't even like, playing on repeat in my head.

As I did the dishes, I frowned, hearing this old pop song repeat, then repeat, then repeat again.

So I changed the channel. I started singing Michael Card's "Holy, Holy, Holy" as I scraped food scraps into the trash and wiped down the table.

Soon I found, as I made a sandwich for my husband's lunch the next day, as I washed out a sippy cup, that I was grateful for the food I was preparing, grateful for the utensils that are used every day to feed my children, grateful to have this work - tired as I was - because it was good work, and it meant that we had enough to eat, that we were all here, that we were all safe. The silence that had at first revealed the noise in my mind now, after I had refocued myself on the holiness of God, revealed a rhythm of gratitude in my heart that played not in opposition, but in counterpoint to my exhaustion. The light-headed feeling of sleep deprivation that has plagued me ever since I started getting up early again no longer felt like an oppressive fog, but seemed suddenly like a fine and refreshing mist that the light was shining through.

When the chores were finally done, I turned on some music, finally. But it was Michael Card, singing the song that I listened to over and over in the hospital, In the Wilderness. ". . . in the wasteland of our wanting, where the darkness seems so deep, we search for a beginning, for an exodus to home, and find the ones who follow him must often walk alone . . ."

It made tears come to my eyes, because though I am not still where I was last year, I am still in the wilderness. The loneliness of the hospital has been replaced by the loneliness of RSV quarantine, and the physical exhaustion of twin pregnancy has been replaced by the physical exhaustion of twin parenting. It is progress, true, but it is not ease.

". . . the windy winter wilderness can blow our selves away . . ."

I sat down, propped my chin in my hands, and stared at the icon of Christ that's on the wall above our kitchen table. I found myself staring at his face and telling him that I loved him. I felt like I do when I find myself staring at my husband, that man who is dear as my own self, whose face I have memorized but still love to look at and whose very flesh I am. Jesus is like that, only more.

". . . but he gives grace sufficient to survive any test and that's the painful purpose of the wilderness. That's the painful promise of the wilderness."

I am glad I was silent for awhile.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

". . . wandering in the wilderness is the best way to be found . . ."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

cool sale: gingerbread houses and gingerbread trains

Gamgee's third birthday is coming up, and in our home, the birthday child gets to pick his birthday meal and dessert.

This year, he asked for "a gingerbread boy house".

Well, it's not Christmas anymore, but I thought I'd see what I could do.

I thought about doing it from scratch, but then I thought I'd at least look and see if any companies still had leftover kits from Christmas that they were trying to get rid of.

And look what I found: King Arthur flour not only has fully-loaded gingerbread house kits, they have gingerbread TRAIN kits. Best part? $7 each and the shipping is free.

Thought I'd pass it on in case anyone else has a birthday boy who likes gingerbread and trains . . . or just wants a fun project to do with their kids.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Lenten blog carnival, anyone?

Back in 2007, I hosted a Lenten blog carnival. It was a great chance to gather together thoughts and meditations on Ash Wednesday in particular and Lent in general.

The next year, while the twins and I were in hospital, Kerry hosted an Anglican family Lent.

This year, I would be glad to have it here again, but as Lent sort of crept up on me (Epiphany was long this year!), it's not going to be hosted today, but in a week and a half, on the second Sunday of Lent (March 8).

I think this will actually work better than having it on Ash Wednesday, because it will allow me to post links to all of the posts you wonderful writers publish today, as you start your Lenten journey this year (I've already read some very good ones).

So . . . if you would like to participate, please email me the link to your post on Lent, celebrating Lent with your little ones, observing it by yourself, worshipping during Lent, fasting and prayer, etc. sometime in this next week. I'll stop accepting links this time next week, and get the post up on Sunday, March 8, full of good links to contemplate during the last month of Lent.

You can find my email in my profile on the sidebar. I'm really looking forward to reading all of your thoughts and meditations; it's so good to hear from one another, and to share with each other what good things and hard changes God has been giving us and leading us towards during this season.

Send links!

And, in closing, here is part of the Blessed George Herbert's poem, Lent:

It's true, we cannot reach Christ's forti'eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour's purity;
Yet we are bid, 'Be holy ev'n as he, '
In both let's do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.

Read the whole thing here.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. I'm Anglican, but posts from other Protestant denominations, as well as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, are equally welcome.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why I'm not a Roman Catholic

I mentioned in a post awhile ago that while I wish I could convert to Catholicism, I can’t with a good conscience. A kind reader inquired why, and I thought it was about time I got around to answering her question.

Before I do, I’d like to firmly state that it’s not because I think Roman Catholics are not Christians. While I’m sure some aren’t, I’m also sure some Protestants aren’t. I think most probably are. The reason I can’t become Catholic is because if I were Catholic, I’d be a bad Catholic. I’d be a bad Catholic because I disagree with so many of their particular beliefs. If I were to convert, I’d want to be a good Catholic, and I’m not going to convert while that is impossible for me.


So, what is it that I disagree with? Well, it’s mostly the usual suspects: prayer to the saints, the theology of Mary, the primacy of the Pope, the doctrine of Purgatory, the position on birth control. There are other issues I’m not certain about, like transubstantiation and paedobaptism, but I’m not philosopher enough to really argue those. I find transubstantiation unlikely, and I’ll leave it at that. Paedobaptism is something my own church practices, and though I think it’s not best, it doesn’t seem hideously harmful.

I’d also like to say: I have read the Catholic arguments on each of these points. And I will continue to read them. There are so many Catholic writers that I respect and admire that I would be hypocritical to ignore them when they write on these issues. I figure if I’m willing to hear their wisdom on the devotional life, I should also be willing to hear their wisdom on the position of the Pope.

So far, they haven’t convinced me. But I’ll continue to read their arguments as I come across them, in case there is something I’ve missed, or considered incorrectly. In other words, I’m not a Protestant who plugs her ears and sings “La, La, LA” when someone from Rome opens his mouth. :)

I’ll take the points one at a time, and, though I don’t promise an exhaustive catalogue of my disagreements, I’ll try to give a good summary of each. (In other words, this is the short version.)

1) prayer to the saints: The very best thing ever said on this was, I think, said by George Herbert in his poem “To All Angels and Saints” which I would urge you all to read. He basically argues that though he greatly loves the saints, he may not act where he is not commanded to act, and the Bible urges no such communication with those who have gone before us. He further argues that all praise is due to God, and it is not his right to take from what is God’s and offer it to any “inferior power”.
On my own, I’d offer a few other points:
I think you can make a pretty convincing case from scripture against it. I’d start with the Old Testament command that we’re not to try to talk to the dead. It’s obviously possible (see Saul and Samuel), but not exactly encouraged.
I’d further argue a practical point: we humans tend to worship and fear (and fear and worship) what we can’t see. I’d argue that it’s dangerous for embodied spirits (like us) to talk to unembodied spirits – or at least spirits with bodies we can’t perceive – because we tend to worship them. Perhaps there are some very holy people that aren’t tempted to this, but I think most of us tend to worship entities we are talking to when we can’t physically sense them. When you ask your earthly friend to pray for you, all her bodiliness will remind you that she’s just human. When you ask St. Francis to pray for you, his lack of physical presence might keep you from remembering that he’s just as human as you. You might tend to think of him more highly than you ought.
2) the position of Mary: Yes, Protestants tend to make too little of her. Her “may it be unto me as you have said” is the exact pattern of the proper response of every Christian to God, and we’d all do well to meditate on it.
However, I think there isn’t any scriptural warrant for the Catholic doctrine of thinking her sinless. In fact, it seems unbiblical to me, as we are assured that Jesus alone was the only human being ever without fault.
Also, again, I think there is a very human tendency, when praying to Mary, to worship.
Finally, I think that the Catholic devotion to Mary does lead people away from devotion to God. Not always, but often. I also think, from the scriptural depiction of Mary, that this is the last thing she herself would want. She points us toward the mercy of God, and if we look at her too long, we might forget to look where she is looking: to her Son.
3) the primacy of the Pope: Yes, yes, I repeat myself: no scriptural warrant. :) I would also point to Paul’s correction of Peter as proof that the bishop of Rome was not, from the earliest of days, infallible.
4) the doctrine of Purgatory: Here I quibble a bit. Yes, it does seem obvious that something happens in between death and heaven. Somehow, the mortal is made immortal, the sinful becomes the sinless. However, the idea that this process is actually a place seems a bit imaginative to me.
5) NFP: The Catholic church argues that every form of birth control except for NFP is bad.
Okay. However, in the Bible, Paul tells us that husband and wife are not to abstain except for the purpose of prayer. And . . . trying to avoid having children is not prayer. It seems, therefore, that abstaining in order to avoid conception is directly violating Paul’s admonition. Which seems enough to start with.

Alright, hopefully I haven’t alienated my Catholic readers! I also am not writing this for the purpose of discouraging you, or persuading you away from your faith. Rather, I’m very aware that all of us, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox alike, are all suffering from being part of a divided church. One day, surely, Christ will return, and make our divisions cease. We'll each learn where we were right and where we were wrong. Until then, it seems to behoove us to love one another, and try to understand one another, and to obey. And to try to disagree honestly and charitably. I’m well aware that there are things that the Catholic church does better than the Protestant church, and I am very grateful for its witness to the world. But for now, it seems to me that the Protestants have it most right of the three branches. (Again, I don't think we have it all right.)

But I did want to answer the question, and I hope that it helps any of my readers who wanted to understand where I’m coming from.

It seems like a good thing to be able to say, “Here is where we really agree. Here is where we really disagree,” and to not lie about either one. There won’t be any common ground if we don’t tell the truth about the uncommon ground. And I do believe that what we have in common (i.e., everything in the Nicene creed) is much, much greater than what we don’t have in common. Until our Lord returns, may we each serve Him faithfully in the places where He has led us.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snells

Monday, February 16, 2009

the point of Exodus

I've kept up, so far, with my resolution to read through the Bible again this year. And I've just finished Exodus.

I know I usually think of Exodus as the story of the children of Israel leaving Egypt. And it is.

But you know what the bulk of it is? The story of God telling them how to build the tabernacle. And then the story of them building the tabernacle.

It's very repetative. "Make it like this. With this many curtains. Made of this stuff. And this many sockets. Made of this stuff. And . . ." Then, after you get through chapters and chapters like that, you read almost the exact same things over again, except that's now it's: "And they made it like that. With that many curtains. Made of that stuff. And that many sockets. Made of that stuff. And . . ."

But I know that all scripture is God-breathed, and useful. So I was praying that the Lord would help me see the point of the repetition. And I think I found it, here in Exodus 40:42-43:
"According to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did all the work. Then Moses looked over all the work, and indeed they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, just so they had done it. And Moses blessed them."

Israel obeyed. They did it just as the Lord had commanded. And that exacting obedience was so precious, so good, that it was worth telling it all over again, just to show how precisely they had obeyed his word. "He said to do it this way. And we did it that way."

And then, following that glorious declaration of obedience is this, in Exodus 40:
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

God was with them. He told them how he was to be worshipped, how to make themselves fit for his presence, and they obeyed, and then he was present with them.

The truth is, that the repetition is highlights the beauty of the call and response of God and his people. It is beautiful. I'm glad he helped me see it.

And it has me thinking a lot about where, in my own life, there ought to be the same repetion. The same, "Do it this way" met with an echoing, "see, I did it this way, just as you said."

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell