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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Jesus, Take The Wheel (Of My Prayer Life)

fall-foliage-road-trips-kancamagus-highway-jpg-rend-tccom-1280-960Some people take prayer walks. I’ve been one of those people. But lately, I guess I take prayer drives.

Day-to-day drives past joggers, bikers (of the Harley Davidson variety and the Lance Armstrong variety), construction workers, and panhandlers. Or longer road-trip drives like I took this weekend through the hills of rural Virginia.

Inevitably, I made observations about my surroundings. Miraculously, some of the observations turned into little prayers. And, suddenly, some of the little prayers turned into little slaps upside the head.

The GPS happened to take me a scenic route off the interstates, abounding in autumn beauty and lacking in public restrooms (unfortunate since I was drinking coffee the whole time).

I counted one “My boss is a Jewish carpenter” and rolled my eyes. Then, something happened and I wondered what Jewish-Christian relations might look like if everyone who’s ever had that bumper sticker not only stood up for their Jewish carpenter boss but also stood up to modern-day anti-Semitism. Then, something else happened and I prayed for the probably-perfectly-nice folks in that minivan, for their faith and family and “traveling mercies” (to quote both my grandma and Anne Lamott, which is a funny thing to be able to do).

I counted two Confederate flags and cringed and prayed for black local residents or highway passersby who might be reminded of and affected by systemic racism. And then something happened and I prayed for white local residents, for the flag owners and land owners, community members and maybe KKK members.

I counted five Trump-Pence 2016 banners and two lingering Clinton-Kaine signs and sighed and prayed for those who have been hateful (which I hated to admit might be all of us) and for those who have been hated.

I counted couldn’t count all the churches. Some dilapidated, mostly lovely. And here’s my wish for them:

“Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.” (BCP, 816).

No matter what I prayed — whether for “local” or “foreigner,” “friend” or “foe,” “conservative” or “liberal” (all terms that I’m finding hard to define much less affiliate with these days) — these prayers felt tinged with tension amidst a recently hyper-politicized, hyper-polarized nation and world.

All I know is that Christians are absolutely, unequivocally called to sit with tension and pray even — or especially — for those whom we find hard to define much less affiliate with. To pray for red and blue. To pray for black and white. To try our feeble finest to follow the life and teachings of Jesus. Teachings like this:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:44-47 (RSV)

Trust me, it rarely occurs to me to pray like this. Liturgy helps. Accountability and prayer partners and spiritual directors help.

And God more than helps. God, through the person of the Holy Spirit, hears and challenges and pushes the boundaries of my prayers. All the way through rural Virginia today. All the way through life eternally.

The Spiritual Discipline of Instagram Use

“Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies.” – Sherry Turkle

This Fall, I’m taking a course on “Intro to Christian Spirituality” with Dr. Lauren Winner, in which we are tasked with completing the following assignment:

  1. Technology Fast: For one week this semester, fast from cell phones and Internet-based communications technologies (e.g., email, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, messaging clients including text messaging).
    OR
  2. Art-Staring Practice: Over the course of the semester, engage in the practice of art staring for three three-hour sessions, as described in this article.

One of the main points of these exercises, it seems, is to set aside distraction to bolster a sense of sustained presence with and appreciation of the life going on around us.

After technology-fasting or art-staring, we students are to write an essay about the experience. I may also write a blog about the experience.

But for right now? For now, I’m not thinking or writing much about the spiritual discipline of fasting from technology to appreciate the beauty of life so much as the spiritual discipline of using technology to appreciate the beauty of life.

2016_instagram_logoI’m thinking in particular of Instagram.

Throughout its first several years of rising popularity, I resisted Instagram both because I’m habitually a late-adopter when it comes to technology and because I suspected it could become something of an addiction.

Confession: It has become something of an addiction. It can at times become a source of distraction, narcissism, and social comparison. (Forgive me, for I have sinned. No joke.)

But, I have become convinced that, when used with prudence, Instagram can also become something of an inspiration.

I am convinced that Instagram can display far more than the user’s dinners or dogs (although those things are fine in moderation). Rather, these images can be thoughtful photographs, the captions poetry, the hashtags prophecy, and the post as a whole a profound piece of art.

Over the course of this year 2016, I have noticed 2 things: my Instagram use increased and my awareness of beauty in my surroundings increased. As with the chicken and the egg riddle, I’m not sure which came first — the Instagram use or the awareness of beauty. But, for the sake of my emotional, spiritual, and creative health, I would like to maintain both as a spiritual discipline.

When I’m on vacation and taking numerous pictures, I would like to discipline myself to select only one sight to represent and remember the day’s adventures.

When I’m waist-deep in work and taking zero pictures, I would like to discipline myself to still select at least one sight to remind myself that, even in that difficult day, there somehow exists an abundance of adventures if I only pay attention.   

I would like to discipline myself to use technology intentionally as “the architect of our intimacies,” as Turkle put it, which I understand as a guiding lens through which I can see my self and my surroundings. If I ever seem to use Instagram in excess, bear with me. But, as long as I’m posting once every few days as I tend to these days, I hope it can be a useful bit of beauty to bless you and me both.

First Things First

I am not a morning person. I would love to stay in bed as long as possible, keep to myself as much as possible. I imagine most of us would.

But, lately, I have been attempting the practice of attending morning prayer at my church, a practice that I was first introduced to while participating in the parish’s Uptown Fellows Program and which I kinda-sorta continued after program completion.

Ranjani's Communion photo

photo by Ranjani Groth

The little chapel gathering for Morning Prayer And Holy Communion convenes each morning at 8:00 am (used to be 7:30 am, which I almost never managed to make). Needless to say, at that time, I am tired.

I yawn. Sometimes a lot.

And I learn. Sometimes a lot.

I am learning to love the fact that, for the most part, the first things I hear in the morning (besides my alarm clock and the natural white noise of the world waking up) are the officiant’s opening words, an “invitatory” statement like this: “O, Lord, open thou our lips.”

The first things I say in the morning are the congregation’s response: “And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.”

The first things I consume in the morning are the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Broken for you. Shed for you.

The first motions I make with my hands are to cross myself. Up, down, side, side. The head, the heart, the whole of my being. As though trying to dedicate the whole of my day to the work and worship of God.

Of course this is all far from completely, perfectly true. In reality, I might first hear voices of worry in my head. Might say “good morning” (or something less polite perhaps) to my housemates. Might consume a cup of coffee or the morning news. Might make some other motion with my hands even while driving to the church (just kidding…mostly).

Imperfect though it is, what a holy habit this has become to practice putting first things first. To even try to hear holy things first and say sacred things first. To breathe in communion and breathe out commission.     

In philosopher James K.A. Smith’s latest book, You Are What You Love, Smith discusses the “spiritual power of habit,” asking questions like:

“What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart? How would that change our approach to discipleship and Christian formation?”

From my experience of morning prayer, I might add to Smith’s questions another, similar one: “What do you put first?” Facebook? Food? Finances? Friends? Family?

I have put all of these first, and then some. And, to some extent, that’s alright.

But I wonder what it would look like to, more and more, literally and liturgically, in our days and in our lives, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).