catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 2 :: 2011.01.28 — 2011.02.10


Home to stay

I was tempted to spend my sabbatical in the Harvard library writing a book on prayer, thereby escaping totally the need to pray.  That is why I placed myself during those months in a position where I could not escape the confrontation.  I would be immersed in a monastery where even carrots are peeled to the glory of God.

W. Paul Jones, Teaching the Dead Bird to Sing

How do you know the difference between the time to sit still, endure, be patient and the time to break free, spread wings, make a change?  It’s a question I’ve been considering a lot lately as my husband Rob and I attempt to discern our path in 2011 and beyond.  A prescient Christmas gift from a good friend has been a fitting companion: the book Teaching a Dead Bird to Sing: Living the Hermit Life Without and Within by W. Paul Jones.

In the middle of a successful academic career, Jones responded to a pull toward the desert — not the literal desert, but a hermitage in the woods where there were no to-do lists, no tenure achievements, just the confrontation between his vulnerable self and God.  His is the figurative desert that Christ-haunted hermits have been heading into for centuries and it’s a hard place, full of doubt, but also promising the paradoxical fruitfulness of staying in silence and solitude.  Jones helps me reframe the question a bit to consider how I might cultivate the stillness at the core of being, whether the external action is staying in or getting out.

Winter is a fitting time to reflect on such things, as our second floor apartment above the snowy landscape comes to feel like a cloister, a warm place of stillness with a view of the world outside.  I look out the windows, over the space I’d love to turn into a garden, across the parking lot, into the crystallized woods where the curve of a river barely resists icing over and I know that this small town is a place I want to stay in for a long time, maybe even ’til death do us part. 

In inviting such fidelity to a place and its people into my heart, I am aware that I’m also inviting a commitment to some degree of suffering.  Friends will leave or divorce or die.  Small town politics will fail to serve the good of the people.  We’ll break one another’s trust. There will be days when I simply don’t feel like knowing everyone I encounter on my way to the post office, when I don’t want my private sorrows or flaws to be public.  In these times, it will be helpful to feel Jan Richardson’s wise poem running in my blood:

I am not asking you
to take this wilderness from me,
to remove this place of starkness
where I come to know
the wildness within me,
where I learn to call the names
of the ravenous beasts
that pace inside me,
to finger the brambles
that snake through my veins,
to taste the thirst
that tugs at my tongue.

But send me
tough angels,
sweet wine,
strong bread:
just enough.

(from In Wisdom’s Path)

The practices of staying in will become a liturgy to help me remember whose I am and where I belong, in times of stability and times of flux, in times of sweet contentedness and times of anxiety.  I’ll bake bread to nourish friends and strangers around our table, I’ll tuck another blanket into a nook where it’s ready to warm a lap, I’ll sleep enough to be fully present to each day, with each experience and each person it brings.  My hope for such practices is that I will sense God’s hospitality forming the core of my being, but not just so I can feel good about myself.   As that core becomes embodied in my home, my home becomes a center within my city and a private liturgy becomes a liturgy for the life of the world.

For this, I pray, and also work, grateful for those who have gone before or come alongside, in spirit or in person — a communion of saints, indeed.

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