Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Unexpected

This is a guest blog by Ann Basil*, a law enforcement officer who works in Southern California.       

      No one expected the earthquake. It came unannounced and, without discretion, scattered everything violently. The quake came when I was not home. I return hours later to broken glass and tiles on the floor, the contents of cupboards and shelves strewn about, cracked walls, and a garage door that no longer functioned. Had I been told an earthquake was coming? Well … sure, look where I live. But I was not expecting it. I had not prepared, not really. A few days later I stacked my surviving bowls on the cupboard shelf and wondered, would these make it through the next quake?

            Two weeks later I found myself staring contemplatively downrange at handgun targets some 35 yards away. On my right was a tall, buff, swat operator. We were in training, and the current afternoon’s topic was combat shooting (how to shoot at bad guys who are shooting back). The week before, this same swat guy had dangled out of a helicopter, trying to get a shot at a man who felt the need to wandering around a quiet neighborhood, threatening people with his shotgun. The man had been taken into custody. “Yup,” the swat guy spit some of his chew on the ground, “it’s coming.”

            I squinted at the pieces of paper that represented murderers. “I just hope I’m there when it does happen. I would rather have it be me than one of my partners who can’t shoot.”

            The swat guy gently shaped his next wad of tobacco leaves and nestled them lovingly in his lower gum line, “That’s exactly how I feel. And it’s coming. There is some crazy person out there who is going to try and shoot up our people. But when he does, I am going to be ready. I’m going to get him.” We went through a few more hours of practicing cover fire and moving in leapfrog fashion down the range, killing paper bad guys as we went. We would be ready.

            The next Monday morning found me frowning as I read my Bible, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some as in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching … In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” Before, to me, Hebrews had always read like a happy, “running with perseverance the race,” sort of read. Reading it today, however, worried my heart. My mind flashed back to the glass shattered on my floor, and the faith the swat guy had in the crazies that was so strong that he dedicated his life to training for that one day. And here, Jesus was coming, like a thief in the night. In just a little while. With no delay.

            My heart, like my house and my trigger finger, was not ready. Sure, I am a Christian. Sure, I love Jesus. Sure, I’ve been baptized. But I surely am not preparing for Jesus’ return as if it were real. I am not living daily as if I were about to be judged by the Almighty. There are shelved items in my heart that will fall and smash. There are reactions that I still need to practice and program into my heart so that they are automatic responses. There are strategies for living in a faithful manner that I have not mapped out and implemented. The coming of Christ, or the end of my life, will come without my preapproval. But it will come. I need to start living faithfully in expectation of this unexpected.

*a pseudonym.

Monday, April 28, 2014

thoughts on traveling

photo credit: Betsy Barber
I tend to be a bit of a homebody; I like traveling while I'm doing it, but the idea of planning a trip rarely sounds attractive.

I think some of this is probably because I grew up traveling a lot. I was born in the States, but my earliest memories - my two or three toddler memories - are of Mexico, where my family lived while my parents trained to become missionaries. Then we moved to the sub-arctic of Canada, that snowy, scrubby landscape where all my young childhood memories live. And I have lots and lots and lots of memories of all the road trips between Canada and the States. Practically the whole western half of the States. A lot. With long stays in Oregon here and there.

So, that might be part of why I like staying home. I already have traveled. A lot.

I still like seeing new places, though, and I'm always ready to go to the mountains - any mountains. So I do still travel. And I want my kids - who aren't growing up as MK's - to know the world outside of their home city.

Still, travel doesn't feel like travel is a virtue, exactly, and I know some people see it that way.

And I can see why. Travel is horizon-broadening, pretty literally. I know that living in a different country - even one you think is as familiar as Canada or Mexico - can really change your view of the world. In a good way. Most MK's I know (as well as military brats and other former ex-pats), are both grounded and easy-going in a really particular kind of way. It's like we've lost enough and experienced enough that we know both what we really do care about, and what doesn't actually matter at all.

But travel has its limits. There's a virtue to staying in one place, too. Sometimes, when I hear people extolling the virtues of travel, and how experiencing all those cultures has made them better people, I think, Yes, but all of your experiences in these countries, with all these new cultures, are yours due to the virtue of people who stay in one place.

People who stay in one place. That's a group that makes up most of humanity, I think. Anywhere you travel, you're going to experience the culture of the people who actually live there. Who make their homes there. Whose grandparents have been buried there and whose children probably will be, too.

There's a virtue to travel. But what people would you meet when you travel if there wasn't anyone who stayed in one place?

I'm kind of glad I've had the chance to do both.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weekend Links: Easter, Feminism, and more!

"The City Podcast: How to Go from Fasting to Feasting": I really enjoyed this particular podcast about the start of Easter - and about the real meaning of Easter.

"Next Year in Jerusalem":
But for us kids, there was no incongruity: Growing up Hebrew Catholics just meant having much more FUN on Easter than anyone else. My Christian friends wore straw hats, ate jelly beans, and maybe dyed eggs if their mothers could abide the mess. We, on the other hand, whooped it up for an entire weekend as we prepared for and celebrated the Passover seder, the ceremonial feast which Jesus ate with his disciples at the Last Supper. At our seder, which we held on Holy Saturday, there was chanting and clapping, giggling over the mysterious and grisly ceremonial roasted egg and horseradish root, glass after glass of terrible, irresistible sweet wine, special silver and china that only saw the light of day once a year, pillows for the chairs so we could “recline,” and the almost unbearable sweetness as the youngest child asked, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
"Yes, we still need feminism":
This is why we need feminism. Because someone needs to fight back, to tell these people, men and women: STOP. This is not what women are for. This is now how it’s supposed to go. This is not how life gets carried on. This is no life, for women or for men.
"What You Can Learn from Calvin and Hobbes about the Message and the Medium":
Bill Watterson undertook a number of worthy crusades during the decade in which he made comic strip history –what fan of the Sunday Comics section can forget his epic battle to get the funnies printed at a decent size?– and he railed against “the cheapening of the comics” on a number of fronts. But it was his decision not to extract his characters from their natural setting and transfer them to “bedsheets and boxer shorts” that provides us all with an unforgettable living parable of artistic integrity.

Finally, I love this video about bullet journaling. It's such a cool concept - I'm going to start trying it this week!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

the now and the not yet

photo credit: Betsy Barber
One of the reasons I love St. Francis de Sales so much is, well, his reasonableness.  Today's quotation is much about realism, about acknowledging what we are, and what we aren't, and being content with that:
. . . sometimes we occupy ourselves so much in being good angels that we neglect being good men and women. Our imperfection must accompany us to our coffin; we cannot walk without touching earth. We are not to lie or wallow there, but still we are not to think of flying. For we are but little chicks, and have not our wings yet. We are dying little by little, so we are to make our imperfections die with us day by day: dear imperfections, which make us acknowledge our misery and exercise us in humility, contempt of self, patience, and diligence, and in spite of which God regards the preparation of our hearts, which is perfect.
-St Francis de Sales, from Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World
The Lord is pleased to have us be ourselves, and for those selves to be His.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Passover and Pascha: an interview with Natasha Pittle

Me: Hi folks! Today I have the pleasure of welcoming to the blog my friend and fellow parishioner, Natasha Pittle. Natasha and her family are Anglican Christians; her husband Kevin is a Jewish believer and the family enjoys celebrating their Jewish heritage. When Natasha and I were cleaning up after a church service together, she remarked on the similarities between the work we were doing, and the work she does to prepare for Pesach (Passover).

I thought that what she had to say was so interesting that I wanted to share it with my readers, and so I asked if she'd be willing to be interviewed for the blog, and she very kindly agreed. Thanks, Natasha!

Natasha: Hi!  I'm glad to be getting the chance to share some of these traditions.  It should be a fun and interesting discussion!  Our celebration of Passover is of course greatly impacted by our belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.  We try to keep many of the ancient traditions, especially those with a directly biblical basis.  Other practices seem very strange, even to me (as I don't have a Jewish background), but it is fun to explore them and incorporate them when we can.

Me: You and I first talked about the subject when we were cleaning up after a communion service together. Can you tell me how that "holy housework" reminded you of preparing your own home to celebrate Passover?

Natasha: The similarities struck me as we were washing the items used during the service-- I was not raised an Anglican and had never participated on an Altar Guild before (though I'm guessing that the high church Lutheran congregation I grew up in was probably fairly similar), so the piscina was completely new to me... and yet it wasn't.  [Jessica’s note: The piscina is a sink found in traditional Protestant & Roman Catholic churches that drains directly to the ground. All dishes and linens used in the communion service are rinsed in this sink.] There was a definite connection for me between the idea of needing to rinse any possible consecrated element directly down into the earth and the traditions of kashrut (kosher practices) and especially Passover preparations. 

The earliest connections, Kevin tells me, potentially go back to Leviticus 17.  The blood from the sacrifices had to be drained and buried in the earth (not consumed)-- the blood sprinkled on the altar also presumably eventually washed down into the ground.  Some sources also speak of a stream consisting of the waste water from the temple (ritual handwashing, cleansing of sacrificial implements, etc.) that flowed into a reservoir, possibly the Pool of Bethesda (yes, the pool that was periodically stirred by an angel and in which healing could take place).  Once any water, wine, or blood was used, it had to be returned to the earth-- it could not be reused for any form of human consumption. The elements, however,were considered to be "renewed" by being in the earth; living/moving water (from a spring or stream) had to be used for handwashing. At one point, faced with water shortages, the clever Pharisees created a machine to lower the reserve water vessels into a hollow in the earth each night, so that it could be considered fresh ground water in the morning! The handwashing of the priest by the deacon, by the way, comes directly from the Levites washing the hands of the Kohanim (priests) in the temple.

Once the temple was destroyed (shortly after Jesus' ascension), the Rabbis created all sorts of additional practices around the 613 commandments so that Jews would know how to remain as Jewish as possible in the face of dispersal all over the planet.  These writings (in the Talmud and other books) became known as the "fence around the Torah", a way to make absolutely sure to the best of your ability that you were not breaking a commandment, even inadvertently.  This is how the biblical law "Thou shalt not boil a kid [baby goat] in its mother's milk", a proscription meant to forbid a specific pagan practice, became the general forbidding of the mixing of milk and meat (a basic kosher tradition) and eventually, in more modern times "Thou shalt not eat chicken parmesan"-- although fish and milk is just fine.  The idea of the fence around the torah is to avoid the possibility of even appearing to break a commandment.

Most people are familiar with the most basic tenets of the kosher diet-- no mixing of milk and meat, and no pork products.  There is actually much more to it (such as the specific way the animals are slaughtered, humanely and draining as much blood as possible), but what many people do not see is the work that goes into keeping a kosher household (I don't, heaven help me!).  It may seem strange to have to rinse everything over the piscina, and stranger still that at times it is obviously symbolic (the wine cloths are still stained when they go into the laundry)!

Any kosher Jewish household will take great pains to keep milk and meat separate.  This means two entirely separate areas of the kitchen-- at the very least separate dishes and silverware, but preferably dedicated cookware, two different refrigerators and pantries, possibly two stoves and dishwashers.  In fact, the ideal (if you're wealthy enough and truly dedicated) is to have two entire separate kitchens.  Can a defiled dish be purified?  Sure, if you bury in the ground for a few years!  Although, upon doing research, Kevin says this is likely a Jewish "old wives' tale"-- every actual document he can find says that a defiled implement must be destroyed.  If the object is sacred (such as a Torah scroll or ceremonial vessel) and is worn out or defiled, it must be buried and cannot be reused.

It steps up even more for Passover.  Any possible leavened (yeast-raised) product is out.  Most get rid of baking-soda leavening as well.  Actually, some Orthodox households won't even cook with matzoh (unleavened bread) for fear it could swell up with moisture and pick up leavening from the air.  Sephardic  (Middle-Eastern) Jews say it's fine to eat beans, peas, rice; Ashkenazim (European Jews) say absolutely not (we keep Sephardic rules-- I can't do eight days of matzoh without hummus and peanut butter). 

From the biblical "the bread didn't have time to rise" to "take hours and days and weeks to make sure that the bread doesn't rise..." Fence around the Torah!  A huge "spring cleaning" takes place to get rid of any trace of leavening (chometz)-- back corners of cupboards, under the stove and fridge, carpets, draperies, even pouring bleach behind floorboards and into cracks to make the chometz unfit to be eaten (yes, poison yourself rather than ingest a crumb of bread by mistake!).  The tradition is to sweep up some final ceremonial chometz (bread crusts, etc.) with a feather and burn it the evening before Passover starts.  Chometz may literally be completely exiled from the house, or it may be packed into a locked cupboard and ceremonially "sold" to a gentile friend for the duration of Passover, so that it is not technically in the family's possession even though it's still in the house.  Now get this: Some households may literally have three or even four whole kitchens-- dedicated ones for Passover that are locked up the rest of the year.  Our family doesn't go anywhere near this far, but the idea of separation, of consecrated items needing special treatment, definitely seemed familiar and comfortable once I got used to it.

Me: Natasha, that is all fascinating! I’m grateful to learn more about all of these traditions.

Natasha: Kevin also suggests the following book: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper.  Ooh, that subtitle sounds all Dan Brown-ish!  It's not, though-- the author's name is Brant Pitre.

Me: Love it!  :)  Thank you so much, Natasha!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Weekend links: weather, HELLP, and more

I'm sorry for the lateness of these weekend links! I was overwhelming (in a good way) by Holy Week and all its attendant church services.  But I wish you the very happiest of Easters! Our Lord is risen!

And now, for a few links, for your reading pleasure:

"El NiƱo Could Grow Into a Monster, New Data Show": important news, especially for those of us who live near the Pacific!

"The Reason for My Lack of Posting Lately": Jen writes about her experience of HELLP Syndrome, in hopes of raising awareness.

"Shop Talk":
“Carve” is the operative word here, not “balance.” It was a difficult life, in which I often realized that although I identified myself as a writer first, that didn’t match the reality. If the baby was crying, he got first attention; if the class needed preparing, that was next. Often the leftover third-energy was just not enough. I call myself a slow writer, but in fact the writing comes pretty fast. It was the getting to it that dogged my teaching days. The rewriting is a long process, but it doesn’t take the same kind of preparedness as early drafts. It’s just work, so I can take it on at once and spend long hours at it.
"A Better Way to Say Sorry":
But what alternative do you have? What else are you supposed to do? It’s not like you can force a genuine apology and repentant heart out of him, right?
"Creeping to the Cross (At Home)": some kind words from one of my former professors.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Links

I usually don't post links until the weekend, but I've run across a couple of good things recently that both so good and so timely that I didn't want to wait till Saturday to post them.

First, is Ann Dominguez's meditation "Willing in the Garden". It is all amazing, but her observation that the exhaustion she thought was caused by her work was actually caused by having to deal with sin . . . well that was just revelatory to me.

Second is Anne Kennedy's post "It's Holy Week", full of the goodness and realism that all her posts are full of, but I found it particularly encouraging as I face all the services and surprises of the week ahead, still wanting to (to paraphrase Dickens) keep Holy Week in my heart.

Finally, if you're not subscribing to the blog Lent and Beyond, you're missing out. The collection of prayers and music they've gathered there is a treasure trove.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Book Notes: "Warbreaker", by Brandon Sanderson

I read Warbreaker because my brother hinted to me that I'd be glad I did.

I was doubtful (for one thing, that's, um, quite a cover). But you know what? He was right. This book was a ton of fun!

Warbreaker turns out to be yet another of Sanderson's brilliantly world-built novels. I loved T'Telir, with its magic system of color and "Breath", I loved the different cultures in the highlands and the city, and most of all, I loved the characters pursuing their goals in the midst of this unique setting.

Like a lot of Sanderson's novels, I felt like this one was slow-going in the beginning, as he put all of his different pieces in place, and introduced us to his new world. But once everything was set up, the action picked up a LOT, and I just couldn't read fast enough. I finished the last 200 pages of this book in a single evening, racing to see what would happen, and how it would all turn out.

It turned out brilliantly. Just brilliantly. It was so much fun. All the set-up was worth it. So hang in there through the beginning.

I guessed one of the big secrets before the end - which is actually pretty satisfying, because it proves that the secrets actually made sense within the world-as-established  - but there were others I didn't guess, and they were just as satisfying, because they also all made sense.

Also, finally, there's this sword. There's this awesome, awesome sentient sword. Oh my goodness, I loved the sword. It was hilarious. It had the personality of the world's most horrifically eager puppy. Horrifically bloodthirsty eager puppy. It was terrible, but it just cracked me up. Very awesome.

So, if you're looking for a fun fantasy romp, I recommend Warbreaker. You won't regret giving it a try.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter" - availabe as an e-book!

 I'm happy to announce that in addition to being available in paperback, you can now purchase Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter as an e-book. You can buy it on Amazon for Kindle, and at the publisher's website for Kindle and other e-pub formats - for only $1.99. Instant delivery, right in time for Holy Week.

Let Us Keep the Feast will show you ways to bring the rhythms of the church year into your own home, so that the celebration of the life of the church becomes part of your daily life. Pick up a copy today!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Call for Submissions on infertility and miscarriage (updated)

This is an update of a post that originally appeared here:

I'm editing a book for Kalos Press on infertility and miscarriage, and we're seeking submissions. If you're a Christian writer who has experienced either infertility or miscarriage, and are interested in submitting an essay for consideration, please see the call for submissions here.

And to give you an idea of where we're coming from editorially, here's a bit from the introduction-to-be:
This isn’t a book that offers solutions – there are plenty of experts for that. Nor is this a book that expounds theological explanations for pain and loss – that necessary job is already well done elsewhere.
What this book offers is simpler, and more primary: it offers companionship. No one loss is like any other, yet sharing our losses can offer, if not true solace, at least the comfort of knowing there is someone else there beside you in the dark, someone who understands. We hope that in sharing these stories you will gain the words and phrase to better frame, to better comprehend, to better share, your own story.
ETA: Deadline: Submissions are due by June 1, 2014.

Format: Each piece should be written as a personal essay of 1500-2500 words. While non-fiction, please use a narrative, story-telling style that draws the reader into the piece.

Further notes on format, from the Kalos website:
The book will be devotional/Christian Reflection in style and may be written in a first-person point of view. This project will address the topics from all stages: the early lost, confused, hurt parts; the boiling anger that comes; the moments of joy in the midst that surprise us; the exhaustion and apathy that some deal with; the redemptive work of God in and through impossibly hard times; etc.
We are also interested to see submitters address things they know now that they wish someone could have shared with them. Our goal is to provide a resource for people who are struggling; it won't necessarily make anyone feel better or always offer counsel/advice, but it could assuage some of the sense of isolation. We want to offer a literary companion to others on the sometimes-lonely path that these issues require.
If you're interested in submitting a piece to the project, please take a look at the link, and feel free to contact me with any questions.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Notes: "The Rosie Project", by Graeme Simsion

I almost feel like you could pitch this book as "Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory tries to find the algorithm for marriage".

The Rosie Project is the story of Don Tillman, a professor of genetics - and, I'm pretty sure, a man with Asperger's that doesn't know he has Asperger's - trying to find the perfect mate (because he's convinced that a wife will add to his ultimate flourishing).

But he's sidetracked by a new acquaintance, Rosie, and her search to find her biological father.

Rosie, of course, is nothing like Don's picture of the perfect mate, so he immediately dismisses her as a romantic possibility. She's just a friend, who needs his expertise. Right? Right . . . .

And from there, this story is off and running! I enjoyed this book. It's a nice little romantic comedy. It's narrated by Don, and a lot of the humor comes from the difference between what he thinks his going on, and what you (as the reader) can discern is actually going on.

It also has a lot of heart. I'm pretty sure I said, "Aww!" out loud at least once when reading this book.

Perfect? No. I got annoyed at the characters a time or two, and (as I'm pretty sure most of the readers of this blog subscribe to traditional Christian morality), I should give a heads-up that this is definitely not a Christian book. There's nothing graphic in here, but there's enough objectionable content in here that I'd not recommend this one to a teenager.

However, if you like romantic comedies, this one's got it all: humor, character growth, and a really sweet love story. I really enjoyed it. :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What people are saying about "Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter"

I'm excited to say that the Holy Week and Easter edition of "Let Us Keep the Feast" is now available for purchase! Here is what people are saying about it:

Summer and winter, day and night, work and rest. We are all familiar with these rhythms of life. This booklet introduces us to the rhythms of Christian life as lived according to the seasons of the Church year, with its feasts and fasts, its high-days and holidays. Helpful, challenging, and instructive: I recommend it.
     -Dr. Michael Ward, author of "Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis"

Brilliant and illuminating: that is the what I have found living the Church Year to be and what this book is. 
     -John Mark N. Reynolds, Provost at Houston Baptist University

I am pleased to commend to you this wonderful little book on the Church Year entitled "Let Us Keep the Feast." It will be helpful to anyone who wants to better understand and experience the spiritual growth that comes from living out the Christian Calendar. Each chapter ends with a number of suggestions to enrich the season, and this provides a variety of resources appropriate for children and families at home - music, fun activities, poetry, prayers, Scripture verses, and other suggested readings. I highly recommend it for any parent who wants to enhance the Sunday morning experience at Church by supplementing it with what takes place at home during the week.
     -The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth

The feasts and festivals of the Christian year contain such a plethora of practices and depth of richness that most of us can barely manage to scratch the surface. However, the Let us Keep the Feast guide for Holy Week and Easter brings together in one place a cornucopia of resources that will certainly enrich anyone's celebration of this important Christological season. From learned explanations on the theological significance of Holy Week and Easter to practical suggestions and resources for celebrating these events meaningfully and with solemnity, this guide is indispensable for use in both the church and the home. Seasoned liturgists and newcomers to the church year will both benefit richly from this excellent book. I commend the authors for putting such a useful guide into the Church's hands.
-Rev. Greg Peters, PhD, Associate Professor of Medieval and Spiritual Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, author of "Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life"

Consider picking up a copy today!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Guest post: On Motherhood and Poetry, by Elena Johnston

Today I'd like to welcome Elena Johnston to the blog. Elena is a mother and a poet, and she's here today to share how those two vocations work together in her life.

These days, it's hard to write much prose.

Tonight is something of a windfall, though. I can't exactly go to bed until the load of vomit-covered bedding comes out of the dryer. Hence the midnight writing time.

This is how it always seems to go. During this season of motherhood, writing happens in the most unexpected ways. I take what I can get.

And usually, what I can get is verse. This time of life isn't conducive to prose, but it's a a marvelous time for poetry. My heart is almost unbearably full, and the words that rumble around in my head are more thick with meaning than ever before. I have a lot to write about, for the very reasons why I don't have time to stop and write. But thank God, formal verse actually benefits from multi-tasking.

When I'm able to structure my writing life well, my vocation as a mother improves my poetry, and my vocation as a poet improves my mothering. Poetry can thrive in the cracks and in-between spaces of a busy life, somehow nourishing what it feeds upon.

Prose is a (for the most part!) a luxury for people who can write their thoughts down immediately. For now, as I'm writing in the middle of things, I depend upon the age old-tools of rhythm and rhyme. The formal structures hold the thoughts in my memory until I'm done changing the diaper, until I've finished the load of dishes, or until I get to a nice long stop light.

As long as I make good use of the mnemonic assistance of meter and rhyme, the fact that I can't write my thoughts down immediately is actually a good thing: I forget all but the very best phrases, and much of the editing process happens painlessly and automatically.

My poems turn out better when I write them in the middle of things.

A little bit of organization goes a long way when it comes to maintaining this sort of writing life, and I'm never more than a little bit organized about it. Most of my poetry makes its way into the rotating supply of unlined journals that I try to keep on hand; still, I always wind up with a good deal of residue. We have a big clear plastic box where my husband religiously collects the scraps and snippets of poetry swirling around our living room. It's all a big jumbled pile, but at least it has a lid on it. The lid is important, but so is the chaos underneath. When I go through my work looking for things to build on and edit, it is good to see how all the ideas tangle together. Poetry grows out of the unexpected connections between things.
Illuminated manuscript of Cicero's Philippics, via Wikimedia Commons (PD)
The tangling vines of a country hedgerow figure prominently in illuminated manuscripts, and I love the metaphor. You leave a little space wild in order to mark off the cultivated spaces, and it contributes to a greater order. It reminds me of my favorite poem of them all, where there is evening as well as morning, and chaos, too, has its place, like night and the monsters of the deep.
photo credit: aaron.bihari, creative commons, some rights reserved.

As I work on my poems, I often fill the margins with vines. The orderly growth pattern provides structure for my doodling pen. Penstroke by penstroke, the orderly pattern grows into a chaotic jumble. And slowly but surely, I'm learning how to shape that jumble into a tidy border. A few stray tendrils will always poke out here and there, though, and I'm glad. The in-between spaces are where the poems grow.

You can read some of Elena's excellent poetry here. I love it all, but a few favorites you might start with are this one, this one, and this one.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Call for Submissions: infertility and miscarriage

I'm editing a book for Kalos Press on infertility and miscarriage, and we're seeking submissions. If you're a Christian writer who has experienced either infertility or miscarriage, and are interested in submitting an essay for consideration, please see the call for submissions here.

And to give you an idea of where we're coming from editorially, here's a bit from the introduction-to-be:

This isn’t a book that offers solutions – there are plenty of experts for that. Nor is this a book that expounds theological explanations for pain and loss – that necessary job is already well done elsewhere.

What this book offers is simpler, and more primary: it offers companionship. No one loss is like any other, yet sharing our losses can offer, if not true solace, at least the comfort of knowing there is someone else there beside you in the dark, someone who understands. We hope that in sharing these stories you will gain the words and phrase to better frame, to better comprehend, to better share, your own story.

If you're interested in submitting a piece to the project, please take a look at the link, and feel free to contact me with any questions.


Weekend Links: Noah, Evangelicals, and more!

Here's some weekend reading, for your perusing pleasure. :)

"John Mason (Anglican Connection) on the Historicity of Noah and the Flood":
Jesus was saying that there will be a day would come when God’s King will come as judge. It is a day to be feared, for all of us will be brought before him. His words assume that we live in a moral universe. Significantly, Jesus cited Noah and the flood as an example of the way God calls us all to account. We learn from Genesis that Noah was not a virtuous man, but he did believe God’s warnings about the coming crisis and responded accordingly.
"The Fault Lines Before the Evangelical Earthquake":
The World Vision decision was a tremor that warns us of a coming earthquake in which churches and leaders historically identified with evangelicalism will divide along all-too-familiar fault lines.
"Doug TenNapel – On Death":
In fact, when atheists criticize my religion the first thing I do is hang on the edge of my seat asking for their best shot against my religion. Many think I’m joking about wanting so badly to find a better argument or explanation than what I’ve got, but I’m serious. I so long to hear a decent, philosophically coherent explanation for the world’s problems. I get nothing of the sort. The only thing more ridiculous than Christianity’s explanation for sin and death is any alternative I’ve heard so far. Still, I’m always open to a good shot at that explanation. It makes for better conversation around a drink than what most people talk about.
"148 – Spring Into Action: Simple Routines & Practical Tips From An Amazing Mom": I just really enjoyed this week's podcast from Clutter Interrupted, so I wanted to make sure to include it in the links. :)

ThredUP: This is a website I used recently to buy some much-needed clothes for summer. It's like an online consignment/thrift store. I loved it. I only searched brands that I already knew fit me well (in my case, mostly Ann Taylor and Banana Republic) and I was really happy with the quality of the stuff I got, and the prices.

Full disclosure: if you use my link, I'll get a referral credit. But I'm sharing it because I used it and liked it. :)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Snell, author of "Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week"

I have a treat for you today, and no, I'm not interviewing myself! :)  Jennifer Snell is the author of the Holy Week chapter of "Let Us Keep the Feast". Please welcome Jennifer to the blog!

the lovely Jennifer Snell
Me: Hi Jennifer - it's so good to have you here today! You’re the author of the Holy Week chapter in "Let Us Keep the Feast", so I wanted to start by asking you: what’s your strongest Holy Week memory, good or bad?

Jennifer: Thanks Jess; it's great to be here. What a good question. Superlatives are hard!  I think I’ll share one of my earliest Holy Week memories, which continues to impact how I experience the Church Year.

When I was old enough to finally understand that Good Friday was a somber day to remember Jesus’ death, I recall telling my mom that I wanted to spend the entire day in silence. No one told me to do this, and I didn’t know then that there was such a thing as a silent retreat. (And perhaps growing up as an introvert in a large family meant that the discipline of silence was something I would choose to tackle!) But I was given permission to spend the day alone, and my memories from that day are of quiet walks through the grass. (I also remember I especially appreciated that year’s Easter basket I received two days later.) I share this memory, even though it’s not dramatic, because it relates to how we— as humans— experience the Church Year. I’ve known other people also who as young children are drawn to the meaning of the holy day and who long to mark it with something special. We don’t have to know much about the Church Year to recognize our desire and our need for it. And now that I’ve learned more about the traditions, I see how they connect to the actions that kids like me are already trying to do.

Me: Wow, Jenn, that's a profound insight. As a follow-up, what do you think the heart of Holy Week is?

Jennifer: Ah, the heart of Holy Week. I love this question. The heart of Holy Week is: MESSIAH. Holy Week shows us who Jesus is: He is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the Messiah shows us who God the Father is: He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all. And the Godhead shows us who we are meant to be—partakers of His divine nature! But the special focus of Holy Week is: what kind of Messiah and therefore what kind of God we serve.

In my research for the book, this point really jumped out at me. Jesus wasn’t the ‘Conquering Hero’ everyone was expecting. He let himself be killed at the hands of his enemies! His closest companions couldn’t understand it; Why would God let this happen? Who was Jesus after all? The Messiah wasn’t supposed to die, right? There were so many puzzle pieces to fit together, and we see Jesus’ followers struggling with these questions even on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had a lot of explaining to do, and one of the tools he used is: The Scriptures. As Jesus walked his disciples through the Scriptures [while on the road to Emmaus] he proved that God’s plan all along had been for the Messiah to be a humble servant. The disciples had to adjust their view on how God would redeem the world, but once they did they realized that God’s deliverance in Christ was truly… revelatory. The Crucified Messiah was acquainted with grief and carried our sorrows. There’s no greater love than this. It’s not just that Jesus is the Triumphant Messiah but that He is our generous Messiah who loved us to the uttermost. We follow a King who humbled himself even unto death on a cross; he held nothing back. We serve a God who raised up Christ from the dead and who gives life to us through His Spirit. “Love so amazing, so divine...” That’s why Holy Week is worth celebrating.

Goodness, I can go on about the heart of Holy Week for a long time! The implications are forever, but the ones that compel me these days have to do with how we approach pain. Suffering is hard to come to grips with, and the passion of Jesus which we remember during Holy Week is heart-breaking. But it’s precisely here, in the worst that can happen, that Christ has been and has come through, all for us. He understands; we’re not alone in our pain. In Holy Week we see the extent of God’s love, a love that breaks the power of sin and death. Christ’s death and resurrection have proved that God’s reign is ultimate. God wins and He is Good. That’s why we can live through suffering with hope, and that’s why we have so much to celebrate in the Church Year. OK; I’ll stop now.

Me: Oh wow, there’s so much to stop and meditate on in your answer! That Holy Week shows us who God is, and thus who we are . . . and that God himself understands our suffering from the inside. What a gift!
Your understanding of the season seems so profound to me that I’m afraid my next question might not have a good answer – but I’ll ask it anyway! Did anything surprise you while you were researching Holy Week traditions?

Jennifer: OH my, Yes. There was a TON that was new to me. This book project was the first time I had ever really plunged into the question: Why is it that there are more details about Jesus’ Passion in the Gospels than for any other time period in his life? That’s what Holy Week is all about. What was it about his death-- and therefore his resurrection from death-- that was so significant to his first followers? Because of their understanding of these events, which we follow during Holy Week, such rich celebrations grew in the early church. Our church year begins with the Advent season, but the story of the church year starts with the development of Holy Week and Easter. For example, the traditions of Holy Week as we still practice them today date back at least to the 4th century! We know this because a dear woman named Egeria (she was probably a nun from Spain) kept a diary from her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 300s. Her travelogue has heart-warming detail about all the services she participated in, at the original locations where Jesus lived. She made me laugh and cry as I read her first-hand account, which is among the earliest sources we have for the history of Christian worship. Her stories are inspiring and really cool.

So cool, in fact, that the first Good Friday service I attended after I discovered Egeria was unlike any I had experienced before. For the first time, I wasn’t just trying to feel somber about the crucifixion: instead I had wide eyes through everything I witnessed. I couldn’t stop thinking: Hey, we’re saying the same prayers Egeria described! Wow, we’re copying what they did in Jerusalem when they honored the wood of Jesus’ cross! So that’s why we do what we do! I had known before that all of our worship traditions mean something, but it makes such a difference to know where it comes from and why it’s all relevant.

Me: Wow! Now I’m looking forward to Holy Week more than ever!  And now, to close, here’s my last question: which part of the chapter was your favorite part to write?

Jennifer: Goodness, what do I say? I loved preparing the music section. I wanted the list of music alone to be worth the purchase price of the book! But I guess my favorite was weaving, all the way throughout, the significance of why Holy Week matters. It’s about the deciding event of history, the turning point of the year, and the crux of our lives. Our book title is a quote from Scripture, but the part that comes before “Therefore let us keep the feast” is: “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.” That’s Holy Week.

Me: Love it! Thanks so much for being here today, Jenn!

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Interview over at Writing Prompts

Hi folks!

Today I'm over at Writing Prompts, participating in their regular feature, "3 Questions Wednesday". Please stop by and leave a comment! :)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell