Advent 2: A Sonnet

I’ve barely squeezed out a sonnet for the week (2 hours before the week ends, at least in my time zone). But somehow I did it!

Collect for Advent 2:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

My sonnet for Advent 2:

Oh Merciful God, come help us hear
Your messenger birds, the prophets preach
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near,
The kingdom of heaven is in our reach.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
Repeats their morning warning song.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
The kingdom of heaven is coming along!
Come help us see and still our sins
That we may come to, joyful, greet
The perfect sun that’s entering in
In earthly form for us to meet.
Helped by those birds, who say awake,
In you, through Christ, we may partake.

 

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Advent 1: A Sonnet

I used to write poetry. A few poems in middle school, a few more in high school, and a few semesters worth (enough to get me rather burnt-out) in college.

These days, I don’t write poetry, although I continue to write poetically.

And as of today? Apparently I write sonnets based on collects (pronounced coll-ects and amounting to short prayers focused on one theme, for those who don’t know) from the Book of Common Prayer, inspired by the liturgical-year sonnets of poet-priest Malcolm Guite.

Maybe, just maybe, this will even be the start of a spiritual practice of sonnet-writing, in which I try to write a sonnet for each week’s collect. Maybe. Stay tuned.

Here’s the collect for Advent 1:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And my poem for Advent 1:

Almighty God, come give us grace
To wipe the dust from corners dark,
To clear in us for you a place,
To set the wreath and light the spark
That must precede our every flame
That must precede our every fire.
Your son so humbly, spark-ly came
To make more light be our desire.
We’re making room, so visit please
In hurried, blurry homes and hearts.
You visit and the darkness flees
From oft-forgotten crevice parts
Through him who lives and reigns with you
And readies us for Advent new.

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From the Other Side

Some months ago, I had a bout of depression. Only I didn’t fully realize it until the bout was fully over. 

I had had some stresses and disappointments fall into my lap as the fall season settled in and the days got shorter and darker and colder (which never helps when it comes to matters of mood). But, I made up my mind to manage it like the Gilmore girls – wallow for a weekend and move on. Then, one weekend of oversleeping and binge-watching Netflix and binge-eating my now trademark brownie in a mug turned into one week, then two, then a month, and so on.

I remember talking to a pastor friend in his office one day and crying (which is weird, because I’m not a crier) and saying, “I’m not interested in anything lately. Not work, not church, not reading, nothing. And that’s terrifying.”

It’s terrifying to know that you feel 100% not like yourself. That, on the contrary, a lazy, lifeless alien seems to have taken up residence within you.

As soon as I identified this particular terror, my pastor friend replied matter-of-factly: “You’re depressed.” And, even though I’ve known for years that I have chronic depression and know the symptoms and know some of the triggers, this simple statement surprised me. It may always be jarring to have someone stop and see your condition for what it really is and say so.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” I said defensively, “I’m still going to work and church and all. I’m doing what I’ve gotta do.” (This is sometimes called high-functioning depression, I’ve learned.)

He shook his head. “I don’t want to see you just surviving. I want us to get you thriving.”

We wondered together for a few minutes what it would take to get me thriving. And I wonder now, from the other side of the depression, what in fact it took to get me thriving – as I have been, gratefully, for months now – and what it could take for others like me and maybe like you to get through this too.

grass_is_greenerFrom the other side, I see that, as St. Augustine writes in his Confessions: “Time does not stand still, nor are the rolling seasons useless to us, for they work wonders in our minds. They came and went from day to day, and by their coming and going implanted in me other hopes and other memories. Little by little they sent me toward things that had earlier delighted me, and before these my sorrow began to give ground.”

From the other side, I see that at least three things stand in the valley between me and my depression like great, calm shields.

From the other side, I see purpose peeking through in the work God has called me to do. Purpose in the co-workers or clients or customers I could meet, the goods and services we could exchange, the relationships we could form, the daily little impacts we could make on the world, the bits of beauty we could build in the world.

I see people who love me and are loved by me. People like the pastor friend who let me cry in his office. The therapist who asked annoying questions and got on my nerves but helped a little, I have to admit. The housemates who patiently lived with Depression for a couple months – and even made her laugh sometimes – rather than living with their usual roommate. In that passage from Augustine’s Confessions that I just quoted, it’s rather hard to tell (at least in English translations) what “they” refers to. It comes in the context of Augustine talking quite a bit about the consolation he received from friends, a consolation that helped him through a time of great grief. And I would agree with him that friends “came and went from day to day, and by their coming and going implanted in me other hopes and other memories.” They reminded me who I am, what I love, what I hope for – and even, when hope seemed hard for me, what they hoped for me.

Finally, from the other side of depression, I see prayer happening. Prayers of others carrying me through, whether I realized it or not (because most of the time I didn’t realize it). Prayers of the saints who wrote the psalter and the Book of Common Prayer and heavy, pleading Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Immanuel” that helped me plead for Christ’s presence right along with them. And, finally, prayers of my own sneaking slowly back into the sleepless nights and the sleepy mornings, the healing of Lent and the healed-ness of Easter – seasons that quite literally paralleled the progression of my depression this year.

As Donald Miller says in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “it’s as though God is saying, ‘Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.’”

If you or someone you know lives with depression, if you’re right in the thick of it and can’t even fathom the other side, hear that with me: Find purpose in your story. Take people with you. And let God help.

From the other side of depression, I promise: It will get better. It takes time. But it will get better.

Happy (Still) Easter

I know, I know. Easter blogs were supposed to happen a month ago.

It’s not that I procrastinated exactly (although maybe I did). It’s just that it’s still Easter. And that’s fascinating to me. As I’ve settled into the relatively-new-to-me rhythms of the Episcopal tradition perhaps more than ever this year, I’ve noticed the continuation of Eastertide in some little day-to-day ways.

There’s the old wooden sign at the front of the IMG_2208church that keeps insisting it’s Easter even
though the now chocolate-less children and the Hallmark stores would beg to differ. Easter 1, Easter 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. It goes on and on, week by week, rolling in over us like the waves of an Easter tide (that’s what they call it after all: Eastertide).

There’s the “alleluia” that we say during the liturgy, nice and noticeable now after skipping the “alleluia” during the more somber season of Lent. Sometimes the prayer book even tells us to say “alleluia” two or three times — like when my housemates and I pray compline on Sunday nights and, laughing a little, they say alleluia-alleluia-alleluia as though it’s a tongue twister. It comes out more hurried than holy sometimes, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

Finally, the other day, the nice maintenance man IMG_2273who mows our yard removed the cross from out front — the chipboard cross that was handed out at church during Holy Week to adorn our homes for a season — and placed it gently on the porch, out of the way of his yard work. I thought about bringing the cross inside that day, picked it up, noticed the soft earth appropriately sullying the bottom of the cross. But, that’s the moment when I started thinking about all this Easter season stuff, started thinking about how Christ is still risen and how maybe I should remember that and show the world that just a little longer, and stuck the cross right back into the ground.

He is still risen.

It’s not just that “he arose” in the past tense. It’s that “he is risen” in the present continuous tense (I think that’s the tense? God might be breaking grammar rules in this case. But I’ll forgive Him.) It’s the mystery of the faith that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” — past, present, and future.

As for right now? We’re in the present. And Christ is absolutely present. Not just for one day but for many days, for every day, and for the everyday.

How to Decide What to Give Up for Lent

Confession: I just Googled “what to give up for Lent.”

The almighty Google offered links to some decent advice, for instance in this blog by a Catholic youth ministry and even in this BuzzFeed quiz (go ahead, give it a shot).

But here’s the thing I have to remind myself about the almighty Google: it’s not actually almighty. And it certainly doesn’t know me. It’s not that powerful and it’s not that personal. The Lord, however, is powerful and personal.

So, first and foremost, take the question of “what to give up for Lent” directly to the Lord.

In prayer, reflect on resources like these:

1. The temptations Jesus himself faced in the wilderness (Mark 4:1-11) — temptations to provide for himself, take pride in himself, and have power for himself. Consider: Do you ever think you couldn’t possibly live without ample provisions, praise from others, or positions of power? That you need something that maybe you don’t actually need?

Sometimes these habits are so ingrained in us that it’s hard to think in abstract terms and may be easier to think in concrete terms. So, think of it this way: When you’re a bit stressed, what do you turn to? Chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, TV, social media, sex, and the list could go on. These things are inherently good. But they’re not God. The problem is that we turn things like chocolate and Netflix into God when we think we need them — when we turn to them before turning to God. (Case in point: my turning to Google before turning to God today. Maybe I should give up Google for Lent…we’ll see.)

What’s more, these things we turn to can be mind-numbing rather than life-giving. When turning to them, we say we’re vegging, chilling, “tuning out.” I’ve been doing this a lot; just ask my roommates. This Lent, I’m hoping to seek less of the mind-numbing and more of the life-giving.

2. The 7 deadly sins — pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust. I used to think of the 7 deadly sins as cliched and even comical, maybe because I read Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus twice in college. They seemed like such grandiose sins that I could suppose I’m not a total lazy bum or gluttonous pig, so I’m off the hook. But, life and liturgy and especially my church’s “examination of conscience” pamphlet based around the 7 deadly sins have made me re-envision these sins as concrete realities in our day-to-day lives.

According to one “examination of conscience,” pride includes failure to worship God, trust God, pay attention to God (e.g. through prayer and study), glorify God through work and daily life, and steward generously what God’s given me by giving to others. Envy includes maliciousness, contempt, annoyance when others are praised, and pleasure at others’ misfortunes. Anger includes cruelty and hostility, prejudice and bigotry, rudeness and nagging, pouting, disrespect, insensitivity, and refusing to pray for or do good to those I feel are my “enemies.” Sloth includes neglecting or putting off social and moral responsibility, ignoring the needy or those “difficult to get along with,” spending too much time on self-entertainment. Avarice includes idealizing “the good life,” IMG_1282patronizing others, stealing, cheating, and giving bribes. Gluttony includes over-indulging in food and drink, as well as neglecting healthy disciplines of rest and exercise. Lust includes ingratitude or disrespect for the holy way in which God created us after his own image, unfaithfulness to my partner, sexual exploitation, and immodesty.

That sounds like a lot. And it is.

Just see which 1-2 stand out to you and let that be a deciding factor in what you give up for Lent. Spending too much time on self-entertainment? Maybe try less Netflix for 40 days. Over-indulging in food and drink? Maybe try less of a particular type of food or drink.

Get creative with your Lenten practice.

And, above all, get connected through your Lenten practice to the God who is far more powerful and personal than Google, Netflix, chocolate, and all else that we turn to.