September 29, 2016 § 4 Comments
A friend of mine recently introduced me to The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, a trilogy of prayer manuals that are a modern reworking of fixed-hour prayer. With roots in Judaism and early Christianity, fixed-hour prayer is one of the oldest Christian spiritual practices. While it has evolved over the centuries, it is essentially the practice of praying (often by chanting) certain predetermined prayers at certain predetermined times of the day.
Since learning about The Divine Hours, I’ve realized I’m a bit late to the game. Now, I come across the books everywhere: on friends’ bookshelves, tossed around in various conversations, and even in the occasional artsy Instagram post.
Isn’t that how it often is? Something can be right in front of your face, and you don’t notice it until you need it.
On a late summer morning, my friend and I settled ourselves beneath a blanket, mugs of steaming coffee in our hands, and chanted together the prayers and passages allotted for the day. It was an unusual thing to do in her modern apartment, our monotone voices joining a legacy of petitioners extending far into the past. While at first, the chanting felt strange on my lips, uncomfortable even, in its sincerity and unconventionality, soon, I settled into the mantra, our low voices soothing to my soul, the simple act of singing words of thanks, of request, of remembrance, of praise good in and of themselves.
The prayers set me firm in my body for the day, but more than that, I liked what Tickle wrote in her introduction: “The Divine Hours are prayers of praise offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and faith to God…The fact that the creature grows strong and his or her faith more sinewy and efficacious as a result of keeping the hours is a by-product (albeit a desirable one) of that practice and not its purpose.”
In a world in which there is so much pressure for everything from the work we do to the prayers we pray to have immediate material efficacy, it was a relief to simply enter into a practice with no other goal than to see and acknowledge what is good.
A passage that continuously appears throughout The Divine Hours, and one that draws my eye again and again, is this verse from Psalm 55: In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. My friend pointed it out to me on that first day, and each time it reappears, I think: yes, that passage is for me.
Because isn’t that what I do all day long, complain and lament, both to others and to God? And isn’t that a picture of grace, that these complaints and laments do not fall on deaf ears, that however big or small my daily trials, they are always heard, they are always acknowledged.
This, I think, is why I’m coming to love The Divine Hours. This continuous, all day, everyday, looking for God. This turning every complaint and lament, every hope and exultation, every thought, small and large, up to the sky in habit-forming rhythm. This basic movement of the lips and of the heart.
July 6, 2016 § 4 Comments
Every so often, usually in the late afternoon when I’m a bit tired and would rather like a latte or a nap, a small voice in my head wakes up and this is what it says: “You, Elizabeth Hamilton, you are a failure. You have tried, and you have failed. You don’t have what it’s got.”
When this happens, I usually try my best to ignore the voice, and when that doesn’t work, I usually try my best to reason with it. “No, no,” I say, “I’m not a failure. Look at all I’ve accomplished! Look at all of the good things in my life! Why would you say such a thing about me!?”
Yet, despite my best efforts, the voice in my head usually wins. Oh, occasionally I manage to pile enough of my accomplishments and a litany of good things in my life on top of the voice to muffle its insults, but the effort always leaves me emotionally drained and wondering if that voice might be correct after all. Maybe I am a failure. Maybe I don’t have what it’s got.
I know I’m not the only one out there with this voice in her head, and that’s got me thinking: why, exactly, do we think we’re failing? And why is failure such a bad thing?
And here is what I’m learning, here is what I’m glimpsing through the fog: failure isn’t such a bad thing, and though we’ve all failed in some ways at some things and succeeded in some ways at others, we ourselves are not failures, at least, not in the way the small voice thinks.
When we fail at something, it hurts, yes, but it is within that space of disappointment and even despair that, if we’re willing, we can begin to understand greater truths about ourselves and the world in which we live.
I have failed and succeeded at a number of things in my short life. Yet while each failure rocked me to the core, split me open, broke me down, I found myself opening up.
I found myself learning through failure what it was that I truly wanted, which turned out to be quite different than what I thought. I found myself developing empathy for others in similarly shattered situations, and out of this empathy came the greatest gift of all: love. Not love in a wishy-washy, I love M&M’s sort of way, but a deep, abiding love that sees the humanity in others and wills their good.
And so, the voice in my head is wrong to call me a failure. Because what is failure without a definition of success? The two are wrapped together, opposing concepts known only as one.
To the voice in my head, success is immediate, and usually involves a vague notion of prestige and money and power. But with a little consideration, I’m seeing a new vision for success, one that finds fulfillment even in the center of disappointment, one that lets setbacks split me open so that a never-ending flow of warmth and light spills forth, one that realizes how you and I and everyone else are at our best when we are softened, and that softening comes most generously through the bump of a fall.
*Photos from my recent trip to Iceland.
April 26, 2016 § 3 Comments
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
I suppose it’s a personality quirk, this tendency of mine toward melancholy. In fact, all of the personality tests I’ve ever taken (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, all of those free tests on BuzzFeed) tell me so.
If some people see the world through rose colored glasses, I see the world through lenses of gray.
Where others might find hope, I see a shattered world. Where others might find abundance, I see only what could have been.
Sometimes, this melancholy is warranted. Certainly, there are times when it’s appropriate to grieve, to feel downcast, to be sorrowful. But other times, this grayness can get the best of me.
Other times, I need to remind myself that while, yes, there is much to lament over, there is much to rejoice over too. There is so much goodness in this world. There is so much to give thanks for.
Which is why I’m reminding myself today: If a sacrament is a sign of God’s love in the world, then this life is flush with them.
It is eating bowlfuls of my grandmother’s tortilla soup, simmered to spicy perfection. It is long walks in a green-canopied neighborhood that smells overwhelmingly like sugar-sweet wisteria. It is planning trips to a ranch in West Texas and a gravel road in Iceland and a lake town in Northern Michigan for a dearest of friend’s wedding. It is being asked to be maid of honor by another close friend.
It is creamy lattes and bright green matcha tea and sour popsicles in the heat. It is morning sunlight illuminating my room like a sunbeam. It is hot black coffee and the friendly fern growing beside the windowpane. It is warm, shorts-wearing weather. It is looking above a concrete apartment complex to see a sky streaked in lavenders and blues.
It is Blue Bell ice cream eaten in the starlit sun room of an old yellow-painted house. It is green-sprouting vines growing along red brick walls and making friends with a local barista. It is fresh mint in Earl Grey tea and evenings of hot yoga.
It is this, all of it. It is a sign.
And it is good.
April 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
I shared this essay on all of the usual social media sites when it was published several weeks ago, but in case you missed it (and if you’re interested!), my essay After the Storm appeared in the fifth issue of the lovely Cordella Magazine, an online literary magazine that features the work of women artists and writers across the world.
The piece is a somber reflection on the aftermath of the tornadoes that hit North Texas over Christmas.
It started with some meditations I jotted down after helping some friends who’d survived the tornadoes clean up their house, and through the editorial advice of a friend, became the essay it is.
We say a prayer of thanksgiving for safety, and I am glad to whisper it. I have known safety in moments of danger, and it is something to be thankful for.
For any interested readers, you can find the essay here.
January 28, 2016 § 2 Comments
Several weeks ago, I had an idea, an idea to document through writing some of the instances of love in my life.
The idea was born after I experienced a sense of love during a strangely mystical yoga class. I liked the idea a lot because I knew that writing about love would force me to be more aware of the love that already exists in my life, and I’ve found that when I acknowledge love, I become more grateful for it, and when I become more grateful, I am also filled with joy.
And, let’s face it, we could all use a little more joy.
For better or for worse, I have a tendency to plan what I want to write in my head long before I sit down to actually write it. So, last week, when I was visiting my parents on the East Coast, I began outlining this blog post in my mind.
I wanted to write about how I’ve experienced love through provision.
Like many adults, one of the things that scares me more than anything else is a lack of financial security. More than once this year (and it’s only January y’all…), the scant number of dollars in my bank account has scared me witless. But just as I began to fear I’d end up homeless or, worse, working behind a cash register at Walmart, that’s when a check I forgot was coming to me would suddenly appear in the mail.
Call me crazy, call me full of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but each time I received one of those checks, income for some freelance writing service rendered, I saw it as a sign of provision and provision as a sign of God’s love.
I thought about Matthew 6:26, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? and I believed that while, of course, each check that appeared was really just the result of a job well done, it was also used by God as a sign to me saying, “I love you. I will provide for you.”
I guess I think the things that happen in our lives can have multiple meanings.
That’s what I wanted to write about when I outlined this blog post last week.
Of course, that was before I returned from my trip to find, yes, two checks in the mail, but also a bill, a bill I thought was sorted out by my insurance company long ago, a bill that far outnumbered any money earned.
For a while, I thought, well, I guess I’ll have to come up with some other instance of love to write about because clearly this isn’t it.
But then I changed my mind.
Because the truth is, I do still feel provided for, I do still feel loved. I do still feel like I’d rather move forward with trust in the promise of provision, in hope that the things that happen to me and the people I love are for our good. I do still feel like whenever I reach the end of my wits, that’s when I receive a tiny little sign, sometimes in the form of a slip of paper, a sign that if a bird is a beloved creature of God, so are we — and so, so, so much more.
A few photos from the trip:
January 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
Last week, I decided to splurge on an evening yoga class.
I was feeling restless and anxious, restless because, well, I’m always on the lookout for that Next Big Thing, be it a trip or an experience or a person to befriend, and wanted that Next Big Thing to happen now dammit, and anxious because, as much as I believe in providence, the future often seems like a huge question mark looming over me, threatening to disrupt my otherwise pleasant life, and on that day, in my life, the future was all but completely blocking out the sun.
Yoga is one of the best ways I know to calm my nerves and pull me out of my own fruitless thoughts. So, I donned my workout clothes, filled up a bottle of water, and headed to the studio for a grueling hour-long class of downward dogs and upward dogs and warrior ones (and twos and threes) and tree poses and eagle poses and other poses whose names I don’t remember but man, were they hard.
At the end of class, our teacher dimmed the lights and turned on some classical music. She instructed us to move into our final pose, the pose which concludes every yoga class: shavasana (a.k.a. corpse pose).
In shavasana, you lie on your back with your arms and legs slightly spread apart. You close your eyes and breath deeply, relaxing your body into the floor and relieving any tension in the muscles. Traditionally, this position lasts around thirty minutes, though we Westerners shorten it to around five (I guess we have to rush everything, even our yoga classes).
As I lay on my back, my muscles loose, my skin shining with perspiration, the air I breathed hot and smelling of fresh eucalyptus incense, I began to relax. I felt the floor envelope my body, holding me against it like the palm of a hand might cradle something small and fragile. And as my body slackened and my mind quieted, something else appeared: an overwhelming sense of love.
A sense that, in the middle of my restlessness and anxiety, I was loved, not just by my friends and family, whose love is good, but imperfect, as is my love for them, but by something bigger, by God. And in being loved by God, by being enfolded in God’s wings, by being cupped in His large hand, I was protected, I was okay. Maybe not in the way I always want to be, with complete surety about everything and complete protection from every physical and emotional and even spiritual harm, but in a deeper way, an abiding way that would lead me from here through life to eternity.
Now, I am the first to admit that this kind of phenomena is easily dismissed by those who consider themselves rational (of which I am one). A rational person could easily say that I experienced this deep sense of abiding love because I was overheated. Or dehydrated. Or perhaps daydreaming in my listless shavasana pose.
Yes. Perhaps. I won’t say any of those explanations are impossible.
But I also won’t deny my own experience, and my experience tells me that I felt, for one brief moment, what it’s like to be wholly loved, and the freedom that comes from it, the freedom to open my eyes in that dark room, to roll up my mat, to move effortlessly across the creaking wooden floor to the air-conditioned lobby of that yoga studio with lightness and purpose and assurance in my existence as one who is loved.
December 24, 2015 § 2 Comments
I’ve been putting off writing a blog post for this final week of Advent because lately, my mind has felt rather like a dry bed of ideas. Any beginning sprig of a thought withers and dies. Then, this morning I cut my thumb on a broken light bulb and found myself barely able to type this meager paragraph, let alone a whole blog post. I decided to see that as a sign and let myself off the hook, but so I won’t have to say I failed in my resolution to blog every week, I’ll share an Advent reflection from last year. Wishing you the merriest of Christmases!
“For nothing is impossible with God.”
The words leap from the page and lodge in my mind. They are the words spoken by the angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth.
The angel tells her she will have a son, not by her betrothed Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit. Her son is the not only the son of Mary, but the Son of God.
Well. How many forms of impossibility can I name here? The impossibility of the existence of God; the impossibility of an angel; the impossibility of an angel speaking to a woman; the impossibility of a virgin having a baby; the impossibility of a baby being the Son of God.
Mary sees the impossibility.
“How will this be?” she asks.
“Nothing is impossible with God,” says the angel.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary says. “May it be to me as you have said.”
I am struck. Here is Mary, accepting the impossible possibility. How? How?
Because she knows nothing is impossible with God.
I believe a lot of things are impossible with God. I fear God Himself is an impossibility. How many days per week, times per day, minutes per hour, do I doubt God’s presence, doubt God’s power, doubt God’s love? Don’t answer; I don’t want to know.
But the angel says, “nothing is impossible with God,” and Mary nods, opens herself to impossibility, and the Son of God is born.
Mary is receptive. She listens for God, she hears, she receives, and the impossible is made possible within her.
It’s Advent, and I’m thinking a lot about impossible things. I think I see the limits of possibility, a thin line at the border of my life, fencing me in.
But the angel’s words are there in my memory, saying, “nothing is impossible with God,” and something in me stirs. The line begins to blur. Beyond the fence I see a field that stretches on and on, full of green grass gently swaying.
If Advent is about waiting, it’s also about being receptive to what we’re waiting for, and the beginning of being receptive is believing the words of the angel who says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
December 14, 2015 § 3 Comments
It hardly feels like Christmastime here in Dallas. I’m sitting outside under the leafy oak tree, sunlight dappling the green lawn, birds chirping in the limbs overhead. Earlier, I jogged around the block, enjoying the 70 degree weather in my T-shirt and running shorts.
Though it’s hardly Christmas-like, I am glad for the warmth. There is something sweet in weather like this, something that makes me rather nostalgic for summers in high school, for the excitement of driving down a rarely trodden dirt road, for the pleasure of climbing a hefty low-limbed tree.
This weather is making me feel good, making me feel something rather like joy, something rather like hope.
And of course, hope is at the heart of Advent.
But hope isn’t always so easy to come by, and the thing we have hope in during Advent (namely, that the eternal and everlasting being we call God tucked Himself into the tiny and temporal being of a baby) often seems silly at best and downright mad at worst.
This weather, though, it’s making me look at hope through new eyes. It’s making me pause and wonder, what if?
What if the eternal and everlasting being we call God tucked Himself into the tiny and temporal being of a baby?
And what if He did that so that He could grow up and die?
And what if, in dying, He turned back the clocks, unfolded the sheets of time, threw back the stars in their galaxies?
What if He’s doing that in us now, clawing away our crusty exteriors, breathing fresh air into the dark holes of our being, filling us up with honey and wine?
What if we stepped back from our expectations of what the world is and will be and always has been, and thought, maybe God came to Earth as a little baby?
What if we dared to hope, dared to look around for God, dared to see Him, if just for one brief instant, here in the sunshine of a balmy winter’s day, here, on Earth?
December 5, 2015 § 4 Comments
“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.” ~ George Eliot
I have a confession to make: sometimes, I twist my prayers during Advent, which should concern the coming of the Lord, into my own personal appeal for the things I want which I don’t have yet.
Advent is supposed to be about anticipating God’s coming, His birth long ago, His return in the future, and His presence with us now. But because Advent is all about waiting for something desired, I tend to confuse waiting for God with waiting for all of those other things I want.
Some of those things are good, some of those things are bad, and some of those things can be good or bad, depending on the situation. Nevertheless, instead of praying, “come, Lord, come,” I find myself praying, “come, would you just give me at least a few of these things I want already?”
I know this isn’t what Advent is supposed to be about, but it has me thinking: when is it okay to say, “all right, God, I want You, I really do, but I’d rather like this other thing, too?”
Because that’s really what I want to pray, and am already praying, but I worry that’s rather like saying, “God, sorry to break it to You, but You’re just not enough.”
And that can’t be right, can it?
I hear Christians say all of the time (and say it myself, on occasion), “God is enough.”
But what, exactly, does that mean?
Some days, I find it doesn’t mean anything. Those are the days when I’m not praying or listening or sitting in silence with God, when I’m distracted by my to-do list, by my worries, by my fears. Because after all, how can God be enough for me when I never think about Him, when I don’t invite Him into my sorrow, when I don’t ask Him for discernment navigating my life?
But even when I am in communion with God, there are still times when He feels distant, even nonexistent. And there are other times when the struggle I face isn’t eased or removed by His presence.
In other words, times when God doesn’t seem like enough.
But then I remember something important. I remember that God is an infinite love, a love greater than anything I could ever imagine. And I remember that I am like an ever-emptying cup, longing to be filled.
My never-ending desire wants something that is infinitely satisfying. Anything less would prove disappointing in the end.
And though I don’t receive understanding and fulfillment all at once, through spiritual discipline, through prayer and longing and searching and listening, I draw near to Him, and He slowly, wonderfully fills me up.
Maybe our cups will never be full until the Kingdom of God appears. Maybe that’s why all of these other desires seem so appealing to us now. Maybe that’s why waiting for Him to come again during Advent is so important, because then, only then, God, revealed in His fullness, will finally be enough.
But what about all of those other things I want? What about that fiery word, desire?
There are so many good and beautiful things in this world, and I would very much like to experience them all, or at least as many as I can.
And I think I should. I think you should too.
I think there are many desires laid in our hearts by God, and sometimes those desires become twisted with sin, and sometimes those desires drive us mad, and sometimes, when those desires are filled, we find they weren’t exactly what we wanted after all, and sometimes, when those desires are filled, we find they fill us up with more than we ever thought we could hold.
None of these desires need detract from our love of God. Many of them can even bring us closer to Him.
After all, He is not only infinite love, but infinite beauty and infinite goodness too, and we see glimpses of Him in the loving, beautiful, and good things of this world.
Perhaps, then, God is a lot more intwined in what we want than we might think. Perhaps, then, God is revealing Himself to us all of the time, even through the unfurling of our desires.
December 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
As some of you may know, I rather like Advent.
Last year, on an impulsive whim, I wrote a blog post for each day of the season, a spiritual practice that proved healing and expansive for me.
This year, I’m not so ambitious. Instead of writing about Advent every day, I’m reading about Advent every day, using the wonderful book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.
May I suggest it to you? It’s chalk full of great writers like Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen and Madeleine L’Engle and so many many more. I’m only a day into the season, and I’m already smitten.
But despite my decision to read instead of write this go around, I can’t resist the urge to jot down a few minor thoughts about Advent, loving it as I do. So, here goes: a thought (or two) on Advent.
During Advent, people talk a lot about waiting. That’s because Advent, which means “arrival”, is the season in which the people of God wait for the arrival of God, both the celebration of His birth long ago and the promise of His return in the future.
We are all familiar with waiting. In fact, waiting makes up a good portion of our lives. We wait in traffic, wait at the doctor’s office, wait for emails, wait for packages, wait for dreams to come true.
Implicit in the idea of waiting is the belief that something is coming.
One doesn’t sit around waiting for someone who doesn’t exist to pop over for dinner. One doesn’t sit around waiting for rain in the desert. One doesn’t sit around waiting for money to grow on trees.
These things just aren’t going to happen.
But one does sit around waiting for a friend who promises to stop by after work. One does sit around waiting for the first snowflakes to flurry in Michigan. One does sit around waiting for the cherry blossom trees to bloom in spring.
These things will happen in a matter of time.
But what about God? Was God really born to a virgin in a manger? Was it really true when God promised He would come again? Should we wait for these things, or is that just so much insanity?
Part of me says it is. Part of me, the lonely part of me that has known God’s absence, the cynical part of me that knows promises are broken all the time, the hard part of me that says this is silly and can’t be true, those parts of me say it’s insane.
But another part of me, the peaceful part of me that’s been filled with God’s love, the hopeful part of me that knows God doesn’t make promises He doesn’t plan to keep, the warm part of me that’s moved by the idea of God making His way to Earth, those parts of me say, okay, I’m ready, I’m waiting. I may not understand it fully, but God’s mysterious and ineffable – it would be trite if I did.
So, how is this waiting thing going to go?