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.

 

birdsinging3

 

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.

IMG_3682.JPG

 

 

Christmas In July: Celebrating the Ordinary

Yesterday, it was 100° in Dallas, TX. And there was snow.07-2014 Christmas In July Cropped

Well, there was fake snow at a “Christmas In July” block party in the city’s Bishop Arts district, complete with festive edibles, an ugly sweater contest, and a shorts-and-flip-flops version of Santa Claus.

Why? Why celebrate when you’re not supposed to be celebrating?

To answer that, I wonder: Who says there’s only certain times we’re supposed to celebrate?

If we were only supposed to celebrate certain things at certain times, life would be less interesting and many creative professionals would be out of a job. Writers, for instance, build a foundation upon being fascinated by anything. Perhaps the oldest poetic form, the ode, sets out to celebrate “an event, a person, or a thing not present.”

Yesterday’s hoopla was a sort of ode to Christmas, although it wasn’t present. William Wordsworth’s famous “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” was a wistful tribute to immortality, although it wasn’t present (he only wished it was). An ode can be written to just about anything — the West Wind, a Grecian urn, a graveyard, America, menstrual cycles. They’ve all been done.

What would you write an ode to? Moreover, what would you live an ode to? What or who would you sit down and take time to appreciate?

Maybe tomorrow, even though it won’t be Christmas or even Christmas-in-July, I’ll sit down and appreciate the softness of my dog’s fur, the usefulness of a random office supply, or the slowness of my commute to work (although that one might be pushing it!).

We can live an ode to a good meal by taking a few seconds to Instagram it. We can live an ode to a good friend by taking a few minutes to write a letter to him or her. Incredibly enough, we can live an ode — to anything.

 

“God Says Yes To Me”

I’ve asked therapists, pastors, and friends all kinds of questions over the years. Is it okay for me to be a joyful person and have depression, okay to have both doubt and faith, okay to be an introvert and a leader? I won’t get into those answers just yet. Because, what I think my permission-seeking questions boil down to is this: Is it okay to be me?

A few years ago, I discovered my predicament described beautifully in this poem, “God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

An important observation: There is nothing wrong with any of the things that Haught’s narrator nervously asks permission for. They’re harmless personality traits (melodramatic), physical characteristics (short), and self-expression choices (wearing nail polish, not paragraphing letters). Sure, any of those things taken to an extreme could pose problems; being too melodramatic could cause social conflict, being extremely short could make it hard to reach things, etc. But she asks permission anyway.

More specifically, she asks God for permission.

Why?

Because, all too often, we come to believe that what we’re doing or becoming is socially — or even theologically — unacceptable to do or be. We may notice Bible verses that could be interpreted as forbidding what we’re doing (e.g. “rejoice always” could seem to forbid worrying). We may not notice many people at school, at church, or on TV who seem to be behaving, thinking, or feeling like the way we behave, think, or feel. As Pastor Steven Furtick has said, “we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

For years, I’ve compared my behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel in a number of ways. And I know some other folks who have too.

So I’m getting ready to do a blog series on a few ways that “God says yes to me.”

Likely topics:

  • “I asked God if it was okay to doubt”
  • “I asked God if it was okay to be depressed”
  • “I asked God if it was okay to be introverted”
  • “I asked God if it was okay to change my mind”

In each instance, I hope to focus on just a couple reasons why we think it’s not okay to do those things and a couple reasons why it is okay.

I can give one sneak preview, though: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So, we can ask permission all we want, but more often than we might realize the answer — while potentially complex — will ultimately boil down to: “what I’m telling you is yes yes yes.”

 

Anniversary Reactions

I’m currently walking through a couple days that constitute a mild “anniversary reaction” for me. Basically, something somewhat traumatic happened one year ago, inciting temporary shock and sadness. Though that shock and sadness wore off over time, it’s trying to come back one year later. The National Center for PTSD, among other websites, describe the whole phenomenon in a much more thorough, evidence-based manner than I can.

What I can describe is some things that are helping in dealing with this.

Be proactive. Just by keeping an eye on the calendar, I saw this reaction coming. I’ve been journaling and praying about it for a little while. I called a friend a few nights ago, went out for frozen yogurt then focused on some work last night as the anniversary reaction was beginning, and approached a trusted co-worker today when the reaction was picking up.

Don’t be alone. Notice most of those things in the above “be proactive” section involve people. Most of the time I spent with those people, we weren’t actually talking about the traumatic experience that was on my mind (though we did some). We just talked about our lives, jobs, where we grew up, where we went to college. We were just together.

The National Center for PTSD also includes people in many of its recommended coping strategies, such as visiting a grave together, donating to charity, helping others, or spending the day with family/friends.

Read poetry. Or listen to spoken word. These have an incredible power to tell the reader/listener: “I understand. You’re not alone.”

Fortuitously, I stumbled across these gems in the last couple days:

From Jane Hirshfield’s “The Envoy“:
“For a year I watched
as something — terror? happiness? grief? —
entered and then left my body.

There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.”

From Donald Finkel’s “Sonic Boom“:
“Nothing has happened, nothing has been broken,
everything is still in place, including yourself;
even now the juice of alarm begins to settle”

Talk kindly to yourself: “Nothing has happened, nothing has been broken, everything is still in place, including yourself.”

Yes, at some point a year or two years or many years ago something did happen, something was broken, everything was not in place, including yourself. But now? Now you’re here, safe, loved.

Now you’re here…

safe…

loved.