It's not your Mother's Lent. Or mine. A friend wrote me yesterday to say she was starting my Lenten study for the umpteeth time that I wrote way back in 2011. Things have changed. A lot. And so, it occurred to me Ashes to Ashes, Dust To Dust, that I should re-visit Lent.
Normally, Lent is one of my favorite Biblical seasons of the year. A quieter repose. Right now, my life feels so rushed and crazy it's not a place I want to settle into. Lent. It means a lot of things to me. Most of them bring to mind a kind of solitary Thomas Merton kind of living. A lifestyle that takes time to reflect. Or a giving up of something - anything - that I might not be in the mood to give up. Sugar. Caffeine. Red Wine. Bread. Meat. Except Chicken. I've had a bout of food poisoning due to a suspicious chicken. Which is what caused me to miss Ash Wednesday services. And doing my radio show. All because of some mysterious chicken salad from a deli that has normally - great chicken salad. But there is the mysterious element of our lives that things can change at any moment. What was once the norm can become oh, no no.
Our normal is done away with in the flash of an instant. Our regular. Our routine. And, that can ultimately be good thing because routines serve their purpose but they can also get us lulled into a state of mind where we are moving at dark speed. Like, we are underwater. Just going through the motions. Where nothing really touches us. Not our emotions or our faith. All of it is commonplace.
Years ago when I wrote my reflections on lent it was for a reason. I had written a book about Praying for Strangers, a silent resolution I had that I never meant to carry out. But I did. And I spoke to people and heard their stories and wrote many of them down in a book that went on to be a bestseller in some areas and beloved by many readers who took on the practice as a spiritual discipline that they carry on to today. I did this for years - not just one - because I saw the results of it in the responses I received when I told people they were my special stranger for the day. I did this in a very Episcopalian way to put it in certain terms. Rock n Roll in others. That is I said it quickly - I do this thing - I say a prayer for a stranger each day before I go to sleep - today your my person - See Ya!
What that means is - it doesn't come off as very, religious in that kind of way. It does come off as sincere. And the story of what happened along the way is that people would stop me as I tried to get away to tell me, "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today because . . . " or - "Funny you should choose me because . . . " or - simply, "Thank you!"
Over the course of that time I began to value the human heart a little more. No, a lot more. I started seeing through the plastic practiced faces we all wear out into the world. After numerous people went from smiling hello, Saying simple things to Thank you for shopping with us - to breaking down in tears - I realized wow, the whole wide world has a secret underlife going on that no one knows about.
April 2 I have a book coming out thats about being a southern novelist, working my fanny off as a human and as a writer (not literally because I have a maximus not a minimus) and about believing in signs and wonders. What I really want to talk about is fiction, southern fiction, hard driven southern fiction or that old - It was a steamy night in the city by the bay - kind of fiction. But it's Lent. And I have a book coming out called Confessions of a Christian Mystic which leads one to believe it may have 1) Confessions 2) that I'm a Christian and 3) a mystic.
Yes, there shall be stories about all of those things shared on the road. I'm gearing up so to speak. Getting my mind right as the famous line from Cool Hand Luke goes. And if you are anywhere in the neighborhood of one of the cities on tour I'd love to see you. More events are being added weekly so do check back but you can check out the events here. So, what could be a better time than to give my blog over to reflections on Lent. Which means living a messy, faithful life in the middle of all if it. And the ways we continue. And possibly embarking on 40 days of saying a silent prayer for a stranger. Because like the many churches that took on this resolution for Lent when PFS arrived I think I'll join them. Churches of all denominations. And by All I mean all and then some. And agnostics and atheists who said they would find a way to pray for stranger each day.
Lent. It's always been a good time for self-reflection and in that vein self-discovery. I hope these daily offerings, musings, and reflections are something that will offer you sustenance along your journey. Because words matter. And because we are on this journey together.
Yesterday was pure magic. First it was Sunday and it felt like a sabbath. A kind of quiet day given over to prayer and introspection, rest and reflection. To reading. Early in the morning the fog was rising in the little valley but the sun there at the edge of the world at sunrise was promising. The wind had turned and was blowing in from the East. The Summer was past and it let me know that soon the wind would turn, tunnel down from the North and I could feel all these things down in my soul. That it was time to pile wood, to ready for Winter. It was the first day where it felt as if that old clock known as seasons had shifted. No more Indian Summer days that surprised us with warmth and promise. Now the wind held a chill, shook the trees that cast off their leaves by the hundreds. I watched them sweep and pile at my feet. The world on the hill was quiet. The traffic kept its peace.
Lately, I've been embracing Sunday's for reading. A curl up in bed or sit on the porch kind of day to allow myself this luxury. Not reading for work, or after work or just before bed. But reading as a center-point of the day. A spoke of a wheel. And since it is Sunday I've laid aside all types of reading and picked up a habit of reading those things that reflect or embrace a spiritual side of life. In some way. This is a wild, sweep of a description since it encompasses so much. Books like Leif Enger's Peace Like a River would fall into my Sunday category. Yesterday, I picked up Mark Richard's House of Prayer No. 2. Roy Blount, Jr. described this work as "Hot damn! and Glory Be!" and I think that is a fine assessment. I've never met Mr. Richard's but I read this book years ago when an author friend, Michael Morris was kind enough to mail it to me with a note that said - I think you will like this book. And, he was right. I like it as much the 2nd time around as I did the first and am highly recommending it to those people who are studying writing with me to add it to their library of books that lead by example.
So, I read and watched the leaves fall and said my prayers. And read a book on prayer that is meaty and in it's upteeth printing since the 1940s and it requires that I concentrate on the words. And then think about them. And then underline some and think about them some more. It's Harry Emerson Fosdick's book on The Meaning of Prayer. I picked it up in the throw away free books at McKay's when I went in to find season 3 of that very, expensive soap opera known as POLDARK for me and Mama to watch. The Poldark's have just about worn us out with their problems but we are hanging in there trying to help the story find a happy ending. Which may never be forthcoming since PBS is now on Season 4. We are almost caught up with our binge watching evenings and then we will have to return to Antique Road Show and the Golden Girls to find something to agree on until the next big thing comes along.
Last night it grew dark early. Mom had gone over to Sisters to visit, little dog Duncan had gone to the sitters and for a moment Kevin the rescue dog and I sat in the growing evening shadows as I read House of Prayer No. 2 and the house was still and silent. The rain had started and was steady, the wind still shaking the branches, raining down in gusts acorns that are golf ball size and clack, clack, clack against the roof. The birds defied the wind and clung to the feeders eating as they were spun around and around and around. There was a kind of peace that defies the stress that so easily besets us these days. On every level.
For a few moments I quit worrying about things and was just a reading woman, sitting by an empty fireplace. I kept looking up from the page knowing that soon and very, soon I'd be layering log upon log, smoking up the old house in such a way that everything in it including me will smell like wood smoke until Spring. So be it. Seasons come and seasons go. And my soul is learning to rest in this knowledge and to count my blessings.
Today's facebook post was specifically designed for Monday's. If you don't follow or friend yet I hope you will. I realize that there seems to be a world of people out there all in the same boat, trying to keep hope afloat without realizing we are not alone. That we are on this journey together and remembering to be that to each other, fellow travelers, helps lighten our load.
If you haven't signed up for my newsletter on the homepage I hope you will join me there. In the meantime, may your week be bountiful in grace and mercy and all good things.
It's been all monumentally, simple moments up on the hill. Summer has basically come and almost gone while I wasn't looking.
The shutters are still a project. Lying half painted and waiting. I have to admit I'll give them credit they don't yell at me like other inanimate objects. Like my laptop. It whispers all the time. Words, words, words. The shutters wait with a quiet confidence that I'll return and they'll be all firecracker red in no time. The laptop, it sometimes shutters a little in fear. As if all of time will pass by and the words I was meant to write will rest inside of me for all time.
I'm listening in the quiet places. Somedays I live another life instead of writing. Somedays I fill the plastic pool and buy a watermelon and pick up the Charmings (the duo that makes up part of the wolf pack when all the littles are together.) and say HEY - WANT TO HAVE SOME ZAZA FUN? And they act like I walk on water, that I have superpowers, that I am someone really important. Higher ranking than any queen or diplomat. Then they climb in my car and I take them to the pool and cut the watermelon and they stand in one foot of water with watermelon slices, red juice running down their arms and grin at each other and nod their hands like - IS THIS NOT THE BEST LIFE EVER???? Zaza is fighting something and a little under the weather but they don't need to know this and in this moment - it is the best day ever. And then we watered flowers and drew pictures and played with trucks and lit sparklers on the front porch and watched a movie. And that was a very, good day.
Life still opens up slowly up on the hill. The fog lifts and changes shapes, finds the trees, climbs higher. On my better days I'm up in time to watch this show take place. It settles me and sets the tone. Breathe it says. Just breathe. And God says things. Like yes and I know. And, just breathe.
I'm on the road now which seems to be my natural state of being. Wheels moving across the asphalt where they can just keep on moving like we'll just drive into the hereafter if we don't slow down. I've snuck off to a coffee house because the house is still sleeping. Mama and cousins so as soon as I open my eyes and say thank you God I'm still breathing, the world is still spinning, gravity is not lost - I think COFFEE like I need an IV fix, pull on jeans a shirt I've worn three days running, grab laptop bag and find the closest coffee shop. It's a new one for me. I so long to head over the bridge and park in St. Andrews where writer friend Tony Simmons hangs but I'm sticking close to the family this am. So I'm at a new place. Finn's it's called. Attached to the old Mr. Surf's. A hangout of my teenage years.
There's a guy talking Jesus. I know this because he has said Jesus a few times and then mentioned Corinthians. I gotta say, he looks healthy. That kind of tan and juicing healthy that some people look. Not like vampires that have been up late singing King of the Road at Cousin Deb's backyard Karoke bar. I bet he went to bed at an earlier hour. Now I notice praise music is playing on the speakers. They have soy candles for sell and raw almonds and hemp seeds and bottles of wine for sale. This is good. All of it is good.
I put in earphones and play David Gray's Babylon. Again. It's my new over and over and over song.
And read a few pages of Always We Begin Again. The tiniest of books. Evidence that the weight of words isn't measured by the length of them. I make a note to read the meditation, Each Day on the air on Clearstory Radio next Wednesday. Being back on the air is like slipping on an old coat. One I've missed and get to remember brand new all over again. It's a strange little mixture of words and songs all celebrating living a creative life with soul.
The news. Greece hurt me. People driven to cliffs to try to find the sea, to escape. Families clinging to one another in a last embrace knowing they will die. Found that way. A thousand million words couldn't say more to me than that image in my heart which spoke volumes of all that we hold dear and love and the best of who we are. One last embrace.
Today is my friend Fran's Birthday. She happened to be mother to one of my best friends, grandmother to three gorgeous girls who continue to bless my life just by knowing them. But she was also a friend with open arms, a great supporter of so many authors. A lover of story, a compassionate, passionate person full wonder. She was - and still is - a part of the magic that makes up my life.
Today I hope you find the magic that makes your life worthy of every blessed minute we have here together. I'll be back soon.
Peace and promises,
wDisclaimer: This is a tired, free-for-all disjointed update from the hill.
IT SNOWED! In the beautiful, you have to be kidding me, is this for real? Is this my view? Am I one of the luckiest people on the planet or what! Kind of ways! I woke up, looked out my window and went - WOW! Just, wow! (This is what me and cousin Deb say a lot now. It's our go-to for every situation. Many of them that fall into the realms of really? really? Wow. - see previous blog on being a super ZAZA.)
I have such a headache today in spite of this beautiful view that I broke down and bought Goodie powers which I have sworn off for a week. Goody powders are a magical southern remedy for headaches of all sizes. The last time I was in New York City they did not sell Goody powders. The last time I was in Phoenix, AZ I was pulled out of line for having what looked to be an explosive substance on my palms. Then taken to a little room. Then frisked. Then the bomb squad guys were called in. White powder residue found. "Goody powders," I said. "This southern writer on the road's best friend." It was the first time I'd ever been an hour early for a flight in my life. I thought I'd be sitting for an hour working on a new book on the laptop. Hahahah. NO! I just made the flight. I took a Goody. Ordered a beer. If you had been there and had to be frisked in a little room and have your luggage attacked by the bomb squad you would have done the same.
Today. I realize that I really, really, really don't cut myself enough slack. Seriously. I wrote 1500 words on the new novel. Did some additional research that was just like rocket fuel for the story. Planned to write 1500 more words mid-morning and another 1500 words late afternoon. This was the perfect plan. I was on it. And all about it. And into it. In spite of taking a few breaks to post pics of the snow on facebook and instagram (I've been locked out of my Twitter acct for over a year because I can't verify the right password and just as soon as I have TIME I will fix this) so - in spite of those little breaks I had my writing plan down to a fine art. But then I had to take care of some other things that involved the real world.
Like food. And shopping. And paying bills and doing laundry and - trust me - these things have to get down to critical mass before I do anything about them while in novel writing mode. So - while I was getting laundry together I decided to shovel out some clothes that needed to be donated. Two bags full. Too small, too small, too small (gee when is the last time I wore these pants?!!! )Looks great but has bad memories, gotta go, gotta go, too small - and so forth. Don't judge me. It had to be done. It's overdue. I'm not finished but I bagged two bags full of gotta go and loaded them in the car. I suspect they will stay there until Saturday but they are THERE. They made it that far. And I did some other important stuff and worked on class for tomorrow morning for the Phone Booth Writing Series that I'm still over the moon about teaching - and yes, you can still sign up for classes.
BUT - I have been so - Well, River - what happened to those other words today? Where are they? Why aren't they done? 1500 words is a good, normal day. Shoveling clothes is a good normal day. Doing laundry and washing your face good, normal day. Slack. We all need some. Because in the middle of that I watched the news for a few minutes which can derail the most determined of any of us. Because there is scary stuff happening in Austin, Tx and scary stuff around the world. This may have been when my headache set in. Because I am affected by this. Thank God. I am still affected by this.
I am behind in half my life. I am long overdue updating my Psychology Today blog. I'm overdue writing about the women of history and the amazing women who surround me in my present life. These two things shall be done. Maybe not as soon as I like but they are on the horizon.
So is the finishing of this amazing, new novel. And I say that about the story because I love the characters, the setting, the story. And it keeps surprising me every time I return to the page. I hope that it surprises you as well. I have loved telling little inside stories to the Undercover Reader Posse every Saturday at Noon. (Which you can also still sign up for)
Which reminds me that I'm also overdue blogging about all the great books I've been reading or the wonderful new releases of my author friends - but I'll get there.
Tonight - I went to the store so tired. Thinking of my friends who are walking through the healing battle of cancer like Goddess Warriors and how can I worry about deadlines or being weary about anything. But still - I. am. human. So, very human. So I'm trying to check out at the little self check thingy but I run into a problem and a cashier woman I've never seen comes over and pats me on the shoulder - and I could have broken down in a puddle of tears! There is nothing like the momentary kindness of a stranger out of the unexpected blue to turn me into mushy me. That and those insurance commercials where people are singing - I'll stand by you.
So, I'm saying special prayers tonight for that woman. Don't know her name but I know her face and her touch. As if she could see through my soul to the burdens I carried there.
Then I came home and talked baby talk and passed out treats to Rescue Kevin who always greets my car like I've been gone a month. And poured a glass of cheap, red wine and stuck a pot pie of the cheap variety in the oven that is the kind my sister and I always flipped upside down and ate, the kind (and my friend Rachel C. agrees with me) is the perfect comfort food. And I built a fire and sent out a reminder for our phone conference Phone Booth class in the am and read Facebook friend Will Maguire's post - "Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky. ~ Ojibway Indian Proverb
And I thought - Yes, and Amen, Will.
Today - with all my to-dos and behinds and loves and worries - a great wind is bearing me across the sky. And I am so very, very thankful.
Peace to you and all you love tonight from my small corner of the world.
Morning has broken. The rooster down the hill, crowing. More fervently today. More frequently. Morning has broken indeed, he says. Awake! Arise! The great night of the storm has passed. We are still here. On this hill. All is well and all shall be well and all is well.
The storm last night was a doozy. Wind blow, gusts roar, rain deluge. Tornado watches and threats. Worry, toil, trouble. Rescue Kevin was antsy because I brought him inside as the winds picked up, screaming and roaring up the valley and into the ridge, rolling up over us. He bounced, he barked. He picked up an old Christmas tree ornament he found in a corner and ran with it, the hook dangling from his mouth as I chased him saying, Give me that! Give me that right now! Then I put him out again and followed him to the edge of the porch where he bounded down stairs, turned and looked back at with me with a smile, saying - Let's play! It is wild tonight and we are free beasts to roam and roar back at the wind.
I said, the rains are starting dog. I'm going to bed. An hour later when the deluge hit, I got up again, opened the door and called. Toweled him off and declared lay down. He still pranced nervous until I got a blanket and went downstairs tried to sleep on the couch, be in the lower level close to the closet beneath the stairs. To the bed, to the couch I went. Then finally, to my bed in the dark, my head nestled in covers thinking maybe they alone could protect me.
This morning. I open my window. The clean, clear air. The rooster. The all clear sound. My thankfulness. The house has stood yet another storm. The storms I've faced down in life in the natural and in the human would fill a multitude of books. Some, I've simply just survived. I'm sure you, too. We are simple and same like this. We face our storms. Or we hide our heads beneath our blankets and pray for them to pass. But always, the clear morning air, the all is well sound relieves our soul.
This week - The taxman I had to meet. Downtown in Nashville. Clearing up some old business that wasn't mine to do but looks like now it is. I check in and take a seat. The office full to overflowing. Men, tired at midday. Tried from work and strife and troubles stared at their boots. Women waited, coupled whispered consolations and assurances. A man came in to make an appointment. But you can only make appointments by stepping out the door and calling a different number. He took some brochures, said ok. Then he turned to go. He was built like Santa with a beard and suspenders. He glanced around the room before he left and said, "Good Luck, Everybody," with a booming voice. A heartfelt hope. There was no sarcasm there. No frustration. A ripple of laugher rolled across the room. Then an echo of thank you, thank you, thank you. From everyones lips including mine. There was something special about it, about him. About that sincere moment where he cared what happened to the people waiting. He saw us all. He took us in. And, stepping outside whatever trouble he might be in, he offered a peaceful benediction. The room felt lighter when he left. Less concerned.
I have the oil lamp lit on my desk. I had readied everything in the storm. Prepared for our lights out moments. I trimmed the wick. It's amazing how the lamp burns more evenly when you do this. How much more light it casts when you wash the globe. Our souls must be like this. Our lives. Needing pruning, care, a little time and consideration.
This week - The Undercover Reader Posse began. (A nod to my Daddy's birthday, also this week and a great personal anniversary for me. To my Daddy's love of westerns. To me and sister loving to watch them with him.) Early readers will be riding shotgun with me as I finish this new novel and bring it home. This alliance is something brand new and fills me with the excitement and expectation that new births are filled with. Not just the novel but this early connection with readers and story lovers. You can read more about it here. (Or find in navigation bar if page changes)
Yesterday. I read in Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal published after her death. The prayers are filled with angst and love and longing. Sometimes, too intimate to touch. Like this -
"I am one of the weak. I am so weak that God has give me everything, all the tools, instructions for their use, even a good brain to use them with, a creative brain to make them immediate for others. God is feeding me and what I'm praying for is an appetite."
I've been that way before I can relate. Praying for abundance when my mouth is full of blessings.
This week - We continued the amazing Mastermind Writer Series with Session Two. 100 percent of the class decided to enroll again. To stay with it. To keep working on their writing with me in this small conference class group with one-on-one conference calls. This week I'm kicking off a new Fiction Writing Workshop series. For any who are interested you can find out more here. And look for updated posts on the coming fiction series Monday.
That rooster. Boy, is he proud this morning. Relieved and happy. I suspect he might crow all day.
I had planned to work this am so early on the novel. But the novel is a page turner, a mystery. Better to write in the midst of the stormy night beneath the covers. So, I'll turn my eyes to peaceful words and worlds. Kevin went back out at four after the big storm passed. But still the rains were there. This morning he heard me making coffee at 6:30 looked up at the window from outside. His resting now on the couch, milk bones in his belly. The night has passed, the day at hand, the all clear sound. He knows finally his watch is through and he can sleep.
I pray your week holds victory, peace and sustenance in all the ways you need it most.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.