I’m in the kitchen

I recently heard Rob Bell on a podcast describe the gentle yet profound way in which people’s words can fall as like a velvet hammer.  He talked about the best kind of wisdom that appears soft so you let down your guard and then it works its way in and you’re “just levelled.”

This has been my experience of meeting with a prayer guide over recent weeks.

8704_Quiet_Time

Last week my prayer guide casually referred to “the other Sharon”.

We were reflecting on John 1:35-42, on spending the day with Jesus.  At the end of the passage Andrew goes and gets his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus.

“Maybe you need to go get the other Sharon,” she said, “bring her to Jesus.”

The other Sharon.

It dawns on me slowly.

Then it strikes hard.

The other Sharon.  Well, of course.

The one who doesn’t feel seen by Jesus, the one who doesn’t spend the day, the one who has trouble with this path.

*

I take this nugget away and it seems so obvious, now she has said it.

It explains so much.

We are drawn like moths to a flame to something that is true, beautiful, simple, profound.  We find this way to look at Jesus, or ourselves.  We follow a nudge of the spirit,  we give something our Amen.  We pick a priority for our family, we lean towards a way of parenting.  We choose role-models, mentors, every day heroes.  We say yes.  We say no.  We open our hearts.

Don’t we?

Didn’t we?

We’re not sure.  We falter.  We’re not all in.

I don’t always pay her much attention, the other Sharon.  I think I know what I’m about.  I think I know better.

*

After the velvet hammer comment my prayer guide gave me Luke 10: 38 – 42.  Mary and Martha. (The 2 Sharons, I think).

I spend a week with those 5 verses.

*

I am Martha.  I welcome Jesus into my terrace house.  He sits in the Parker Knoll chair, beside the bookshelves, my sister at his feet.

I welcomed him in, opened the door, but I am distracted.  I am busy.  I am playing a loop of  ‘it must be nice for Mary‘ in my head.

Jesus says the words that I now have strung up in my kitchen, written in white chalk:

You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed.

It dawns slowly, it strikes hard.

*

I am Mary.

I sit by the Parker Knoll and listen.  I am drawn here.

But I hear the bustle around me and I feel judged.  Even before Martha says anything out loud I feel judged, compared, uncertain.

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

I am surprised when Jesus says this.  I don’t expect this validation.

It’s beautiful, my prayer guides tells me.

Beautiful.

*

I am drawn to the feet of Jesus like a moth to a flame.

But then.

I suspect I am wrong.

I doubt my choice.

I take it away from my own self.

*

The truth is, I am open to seeing much of my bustle and productivity the way Jesus sees it – as worry and upset.  I am open to his message – that few things are needed.  I am open to his validation when I choose like Mary – it is better, it will not be taken away from me.

The truth is, I am open to these words and this message, but the other Sharon is not.

I have not internalised this voice of Jesus that I think I love so much.  I don’t hear it.

I have internalised the voice of Martha.  I hear – “aren’t you annoyed?”.  I hear – “Tell her to help me!”

*

I wonder what Martha’s preparations were, what had her so distracted.  I usually picture her in the kitchen, making dinner – because I am so often in the kitchen, making dinner.  It’s important to me.  I am drawn here too, actually.

I am Mary and I am Martha, and Jesus speaks kindly to me, whichever mode I’m in.

“God comes to me where I live and loves me where I am”, Brennan Manning says.

“If I am not where I am, God cannot meet me.  It’s as simple as that.”

I’m in the kitchen.

I’m remembering that few things are needed, that what I have chosen will not be taken away from me.  

I’m in the kitchen, listening to Jesus as I make bolognes.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

4 O’Clock in the Afternoon

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

[John 1: 39]

image

Every Monday evening I head to the foyer of the local parish in our small town, to meet with a prayer guide who is teaching me to pray with scripture; a prayer guide who is holding space for me, who has me on her heart.

The first passage she discerns for me is in John 1 and I smile to myself as I hear the familiar words, realising that my Catholic prayer guide has chosen the same passage my Presbyterian minister preached from the day before.

*

I find a quiet place daily, I light a candle, I read it slowly.  I have been given these 8 verses for a week.  John’s disciples follow Jesus.  I remember what we’ve been told – You may feel that nothing at all is happening and that you are wasting your time, you are not.

I notice the words and phrases that grab my attention and after a day or 2 I start to write them down.

“What do you want?”

Come.

They spent the day with him.

It was about 4 in the afternoon.

I start to put in my own name, as my guide suggested.  Jesus turns around and sees me. He asks me the question I don’t know how to answer, “What do you want?”. We spend the day together.

It isn’t urgent, I note in my journal.  There is no hurry.

Every day I sit with this passage.  Jesus turns around and sees me, asks me what I want, we spend the day together.

*

One day I don’t do it, it was my most stressful day, of course. There were no quiet places in this day, no candles.

There was a very noisy changing room, a very major public meltdown from my daughter, a situation I wasn’t sure how to handle.

It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. (That’s never a good time, Jesus).

*

When I reflect on the week with my prayer guide I tell her the ways this passage is rewriting my misconceptions about following Jesus.

No matter how many times I read it at my kitchen table, Jesus never once asked me to do anything or prove anything, or to hurry up in case I got hit by a bus.

Look, John says.  I start to follow Jesus.  He sees me.  He wants to know what I want.  (I didn’t know that mattered).

When I reflect with my prayer guide about my stressful day, my wobbly daughter, the lack of time – she tells me that’s where Jesus wants to meet me, to spend the day – in the changing room, in the tantrum, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

*

I think I need this, even more than quiet places and candles, I need this Jesus who spends the day, the whole messy thing.  He meets us at 4 o’clock.  4 o’clock! At witching hour for tired mothers everywhere – he sees us.

 

Dig in & Tend

‘While I adore the thought of living a nice, steady, evenly balanced life, I am convinced that the relentless pursuit of this ideal is at best like chasing after a fairytale, and at worst a dangerous distraction from being present to the life we have.’

[Jersusalem Jackson Greer]

DeathtoStock_TheCollaborative-1

Two years ago I took a career break, and people often ask me how’s it going?

They ask because they’re interested in me, and they ask because they’re often hovering around some question of their own.  Maybe they’re a parent wondering if I’ve found the key to work-life-balance, to fulfillment, to thriving family life.  (I haven’t).  Maybe they’re considering a tweak, a change, a shift of some sort in their lives and they’re looking for permission, or proof, to pursue it.

Two years ago I wrote a post (imaginatively entitled Career Break) and it resonated with a lot of people. 

There have been fragments of a follow-up post floating around my head for a while now.  I was going to write about walking Liv to school and the trees by the allotments at Imogen’s nursery and about making Apple Crisp.  I was going to write about the tantrums that turned up in all these places.  I was going to write a version of what I always write.  I’d write about ordinary life.  I’d write that the small things matter.  I’d write about the beauty and the mess. I’d write knowing that we’re, all of us, doing some version of this -reading Little House books to our children one minute and losing our minds the next.

I was going to weave snapshot after snapshot together.  Beautiful, messy, beautiful, messy.

Ask me how my career break’s going and this is what I’d tell you.

But, actually, the truth is: ask me how my career break’s going, and we need to talk about Benedictine Monasticism.

IMG_5918[1460]

In a quiet monastery in the shadow of the Mournes, I meet with a monk for spiritual direction.  I tell him I have been reading about the Vow of Stability.  I gush, somewhat, about what I think this means, and it seems to me that he is looking a little amused.

His own words about Stability are measured and wise.  Even so, I can’t remember, afterwards, exactly what he said.  Later in my room I note the words ‘moving with intention’ and ‘facing things’ in my journal.

I have various quotes about the Vow of Stability scattered through my journal.  It seems like Stability has been trying to get my attention.

Dennis Okholm writes, ‘Stability means being faithful where we are – really paying attention to those with whom we live and to what is happening in our common life.’

Tsh Oxenreider quotes the nuns at Our Lady of Mississippi Abbey who describe this vow as a way of ‘resisting the temptation to escape the truth about ourselves by restless movement from one place to the next.’

In her book about Benedictine spirituality and everyday life Jerusalem Greer writes about digging in.  She writes about learning to water the grass beneath our feet. It has the potential to be the greenest of all, she insists, but we have to tend to it.

Stay in your cell, the Desert Fathers said, and your cell will teach you everything.

Stay.

Tend.

Resist the temptation of escape.

Pay attention.

Be faithful.

Ask me how my career break’s going, and these words frame my answer.

*

I’m an Enneagram 9.  I didn’t know this when I took my Career Break.  I didn’t know that that decision was an example of something called ‘right action’ that happens a handful of times in a 9’s life, helping us overcome our tendency toward indirection and overwhelm.  So I’m an advocate for ‘right action’, in your life and mine, I’m an advocate for making important changes and dreaming your own dreams.  Amen.

I’m also a cheerleader for ordinary life.  So when our bold actions and inspiring dreams turn out to be as frustratingly messy and beautiful as our life has always and forever been – well – of course! What did we expect?  That one decision would change everything?  I believe in celebrating that beautiful mess anyway, and writing about it, sometimes.

I’m not a Benedictine Monk.  But I’m leaning in to their wisdom in the life I have.  I’m thinking about what this Vow of Stability means for my little terrace house and my young family – that both the physical place I am planted in, and its people, will be used to change me.

I get distracted, often, in this culture of upward mobility.  I’m attracted to ideas of quick-fixes and greener pastures.  And yet I think I hear the Desert Fathers whispering: Stay in your terrace house, and your terrace house will teach you everything.

Choose right action.

Accept the mess.

Dig in and tend.

I wish.

I tell my friend that Chris is going on a work trip, to Budapest, my favourite city.

“Can’t you go with him?” she asks.

“I wish”, I reply.

*

I see the post on Facebook, the red brick, the blue sky, “Are you ready to walk through these gates yet? #Chq2017”.

I tag my friend Lynn.  I type 2 words: “I wish”.

*

My Auntie Po is in Australia.  I see her lovely photos – places I visited, places I lived, the faces of our family.

I like the photos, but also, I wish.

*

It’s fine to be a little wistful, of course.  A little dreamy and nostalgic.

But then there’s envy.  There’s discontent.  There’s sighing over your kitchen sink, sighing over your right-now-life.

*

Marian Vischer writes about learning to receive her own summer life.  I am learning this too.

‘Real life is not lived in highlight reel moments’, she says.  ‘When we receive those moments, they are worthy of celebrating. But the mundane moments matter too. And to begrudge them because everyone else seems to be living their best summer life now, well, it makes a mockery of our beautiful, ordinary lives.’

*

I have had some life-changing, memory-making summers, and I’m grateful.  I’ve been to some beautiful places, packed backpacks, talked under the moonlight.

But we’re memory-making now, I think, with welly boots and library cards and another trip to the same old park.

Here’s this beautiful, ordinary life and if I’m honest – when I sat by lakes, legs dangling off piers, talking all night long – wasn’t I a little wistful for this?  For a future that was still a bit blurry, a bit hard to imagine.

If you had shown me a snapshot, then, of pink rain suits and stick collections and Lego cities, of a house that smells of Apple Crisp and 2 girls that won’t come for dinner because they’re reading… I think I might have said… “I wish”.

 

June: Permission to Waste Time

permission4

‘Parents, can you waste time with your children?’

That question from Pope Francis often rattles round my mind.

‘It is one of the most important things that you can do each day’, he says.

It’s June and I need that question.  It’s busy.  Isn’t it busy?

It’s June and sometimes I can’t do it.  My answer is no.  I cannot waste time.  My husband is away and I am trying to wash up my children’s plates before they have finished their dinner.

‘Sharon, can you waste time with your children?’

No?

What a simple, yet profoundly revealing question.

It reminds me that parenthood isn’t about efficiency, it’s not about being one step ahead or feeling like I’m winning.

It’s June and I’m going to give myself permission to waste time with these stick-collectors, these astronauts, these “just one more chapter” little dreamers.  Permission to walk on walls and climb steps and dance in the doorway of the music shop.  Permission to step away from the sink – to be inefficient, but lovingly present.

It’s June, isn’t it busy?  Let’s waste time as a subversive, and healing, act of resistance.  It’s one of the most important things we can do today.

 

Pockets Full of Paper

Sunday morning: my husband raises his eyebrow at the scraps of paper on the kitchen worktop. Short sentences scrawled in inky black pen, crumpled into balls, soon to be stuffed into the pockets of my jeans.

My Permission Slips.

My new favourite practice.

‘Permission’ is my word for 2017.

I need to give myself permission, most days, just to be myself, to rest in my God-breathed worth.

I need to give myself permission to have these particular limits and gifts and needs, to have this particular way of being in the world.

I need to give myself permission to have the thoughts and feelings that I do, to let them exist.

This is work for me, it’s kind of a fight.

I don’t want to function from a place of shame, or envy, or pretense.  I know the cost of that.  It’s not worth it.

Yet these are my defaults – to withdraw with embarrassment, to look over my shoulder, to declare it all ‘fine’, everything’s fine.

Brené Brown says we need to reckon with emotion rather than off-load it, and I have learnt (from her) to use permission slips to do this.  She says, “writing down permission becomes a powerful intention to stay aware.”

So I pause now, sometimes, before going out the door, and I scribble these notes.

Permission to be excited!

Permission to be nervous. 

Permission to tell the truth. 

Permission to not know what to say.

It is a simple practice, stuffing my pockets full of paper, but it gives me peace, and it gives me courage.

I use it a lot for the things that make me nervous, and I use it a lot for church, but you could use it for anything.

‘Be Kind to Yourself’ by Andrew Peterson plays every day in our house at the end of our morning playlist.

“How does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you?” 

I uncap my pen, rip a piece of paper.

Maybe that war can end here – with pockets full of paper and permission, black uni-ball scribbles and authenticity, walking out the door with courage and peace.

 


Thanks to Gemma for doing the lovely graphic for this post.

2 of my Favourite Things

If you stay over at my mum and dad’s house, like I am doing right now, the chances are my dad will appear in the kitchen at some stage, book in hand. He will read you this thing that he is enjoying and his fist will be raised in the air by the time he has finished. It will be the best thing ever. It will be changing his life.

We are all a bit like this in my family, to be honest. We use up all our superlatives on our current book, or our latest musical find.

Wait till you hear this.

Let me just find the page…

My 4-year-old has this phrase she likes to use for emphasis when she has told us something.  “Isn’t that A-MAZ-ING?”, she will ask, eyes wide, awaiting our affirmative response.

So we sit in each other’s kitchens sometimes, sharing favourite writers, best box sets, a great new place that does Japanese food.  We aren’t as demanding as Imogen in our requests for affirmation, but we are hoping someone in the family will share our new love.  Isn’t that amazing?

The internet is a bit like access to a zillion people’s kitchens.  I have had to learn that I can’t access them all.  So many recommendations and favourite things and other people’s life changing magic.

I have had to make peace with the things I don’t do including knitting, batch cooking and living in a yurt.

This all makes me reluctant to venture out of my real-life kitchen very often and add my recommendations to the mix.  Yet, there are 2 things the internet has introduced me to that are changing my life, worthy of a virtual fist pump.

1. The Enneagram

enneagram

It sounds weird.  It looks occult-y.  It’s a slow burn.  It is A-MAZ-ING.

Simply put, the Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that helps people understand who they are and why they see and relate to the world the way they do.  It’s a helpful tool for spiritual formation and for developing self knowledge.  Ennea is the Greek word for 9 – the Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world, one of which we gravitate towards and adopt in early childhood.

The Enneagram is not magic, but it is really helpful.  It requires you to do your interior work, but it is totally worth it. Figuring out your type takes time (generally steer clear of online tests that will churn out a number at the end, it’s not that simple).

Here’s what has helped me:

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile is the perfect place to start.  This book calls itself a primer and it does a wonderful job of introducing something so complex in a clear and easy-to-read way.  It’s wise and funny, too.

Ian and Suzanne also host a podcast which is in its second season.  I have been immersing myself in these episodes since it first aired last summer.  They are a great way to slowly widen and deepen your understanding of the Enneagram as they interview guests across the 9 numbers.  Listening in will make you more compassionate towards just about everyone you know!

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr is a great book if you are already convinced about the merits of the Enneagram and are ready to wrestle with it more deeply.  It’s not an easy read!

The Enneagram Institute gives detailed descriptions of each type here.

As Ian and Suzanne say in their book, “The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box.  It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it”.  I like it because, unlike other personality typologies, it is concerned not with your behavior (what you do) but with your motivation (why you do it).  This is a really helpful thing to know about yourself.  It is also unique in the way it takes into account the fluid nature of personality and offers great insights into where we move when feeling secure, or under stress.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Enneagram is that it reveals to us our shadow side, the dark parts of our personality, and then helps us release our grip on our old, self-defeating ways.  That’s not much fun, initially, but as Ian Cron says: “The good news is we have a God who would know our scrawny butt anywhere.  He remembers who we are, the person he knit together in our mother’s womb, and he wants to help restore us to our authentic selves.”

2. Bullet Journaling

bullet journal

My brightly coloured Bullet Journal is never far from my side these days.  Apart from being a wonderful excuse to buy stationary, this craze is the real deal.

You can get an overview of Bullet Journaling from its creator Ryder Carroll here.  It calls itself The Analog System for the Digital Age.  It is basically a practice of using and self-curating a single notebook for all your tracking, organising and planning.

There are many, many YouTube tutorials and Pinterest posts that you can lose your mind over, if you want, but once you get a brief overview it is best just to give it a go and see what works for you.

I like it because it is flexible, handy and personal.

You can start one in any old notebook lying around or you can become a Leuchtturm 1917  junkie, like my sis-in-law and I. (The colours!) (Hers is red, above, mine is yellow, below).

So basically, if you hear Debs and I talking about future logs, signifiers, collections or migration… it’s Bullet Journal talk (BuJo to devotees like us) and if you hear something about my 9ness and her 2ness, how JM is a 5 and Chris…clearly a 1w2 … well, that’s the Enneagram.  I can’t recommend either highly enough!

books