One of the morning prayers from the liturgy of hours recently included the phrase, “Make us love and obey you, so that the works of our hands may always display what your hands have done.” It led me to contemplate just what the hands of Jesus did, when he lived here on earth, and how my hands could participate in and reflect those same works now.
Jesus’s hands broke bread and gave it to the people around him – to his disciples at the Last Supper, symbolizing his body; but also to the crowds of people following him when he saw that they were hungry and needed food.
Jesus’s hands got dirty (literally, sometimes) bringing healing to the sick and disabled – like the time when he spit in the dirt to make mud and plastered it on a blind man’s eyes to give him sight.
Jesus’s hands washed his disciples’ feet – tenderly and gently carrying out lowly and very unglamorous work for the good of others.
Jesus’s hands, for years before his ministry even began, built those strong and useful and beautiful things that a carpenter’s son would grow up learning to make – the work of a laborer.
And Jesus’s hands, in the end, endured the nails, stretched out over the world, giving themselves in love and hope for our redemption though the path was one of deep suffering.
It gives an entirely new perspective on the tasks of everyday life, especially the less enjoyable ones like cleaning or helping the kids with showers and bathroom needs… Instead of seeing each chore as some annoying intrusion that I have to deal with so I can get on with the things I actually like, I can choose to see those things as opportunities to display with the works of my hands the things that Jesus’s hands have done. By living for so many years as a human person in a human family with all the daily work that goes along with that (remember, he wasn’t born as royalty!), he showed how even those low, humble, tedious, unpleasant, or dirty tasks can be a conduit of God’s love through us to those around us who are blessed by our labor.
So I continue to pray that prayer, that “the works of our hands may always display what your hands have done” – that rather than acting out of pride, selfishness, or sloth, my hands would mirror Jesus’s deep love and humility.
The discipline of fasting, I am coming to think, is a discipline of perseverance.
The opportunity to indulge in whatever I am fasting from is continually around me; my mental routines and physical habits both bring it to my attention regularly. So I cannot be content with saying at the beginning of Lent that I will fast in a certain way, nor even with waking up each morning with that intention. Instead, my commitment must be renewed every time I am faced with the opportunity to choose otherwise.
It is a fitting type of discipline for this season leading up to Easter, because it is the same discipline Jesus would have had to have to endure the suffering beginning in Gethsemane and culminating in the Crucifixion. As God, he had the power to end his suffering at any point – to step away from the path he had started on. He had to choose, moment by moment, to stay the course, to remain committed to our salvation. The crowds taunted him, saying that if he were the son of God he could save himself, and they were right about his power and opportunity. They just failed to see that his endurance was greater: great enough to enable him to make the sacrifice his unfathomable love demanded.
Fasting cultivates in us that same kind of endurance. Through it we can walk with Jesus in his suffering (though our steps be small and halting indeed), and in him begin to develop the kind of perseverance that can hold fast to something painful – even faced with a way of escape – when love requires it.
I’m not really that great at looking back or looking forward. I read a lot of C.S. Lewis in my formative years, and I still have his words echoing in the back of my head: Screwtape teaching Wormwood how to enslave men to either the past or future and thus distance them from the present which alone intersects with eternity; the unfallen Queen on Perelandra describing time and circumstance as the waves of the sea into which we plunge as we swim, taking what comes and letting go of what has come before.
However, it can be helpful to look back and see the path I’ve taken – to see evidence of God’s grace, of answered prayer, of comfort in hardship, of blessing and providence in good times – and be reminded of God’s faithfulness. It can be encouraging to see progress made, or convicting to see unhealthy patterns deepening. Similarly, it can be good to look forward, to make goals and resolutions, so that I can prepare well for the future I hope to build.
This year especially is a bit of a landmark, as not only the old year but the old decade comes to a close. Ten years ago – 2010 – I was single, graduated college, moved out, bought my first car, and began working at the university where I am still employed now – so really, the whole of my adult life so far has taken place in the now-past decade, and even the highlights would take far longer than this post to describe.
One of the major highlights of 2019, however, was finally getting diagnosed with autism and having a reason for all the times I’d felt out of place and two steps behind despite hearing from everyone how smart I was, for all the moments I’d been so overwhelmed by a sound or touch that I couldn’t process anything, for all the weird behaviors (now I know they’re called stims) I’d accumulated over my life, and more. This was reflected on the blog – 4 of my top 5 most popular posts this year were from my Autism Acceptance series in April:
That third post in the list above touches on one of the things I’m most proud about this year, actually: the way I was able to identify the onset of seasonal depression and take steps to counteract it. This is the first Christmas in several years that I have only had minor situational anxiety instead of moderate overarching depression, and I think being prepared made a huge difference. It wasn’t the type of preparation that gets me all anxious about making lists and potentially forgetting things; just a conscious choice to let go, to dig deep, to roll the thoughts away, to take things one step at a time, and to center my life on meditative prayer.
What also helped was a chance, at the beginning of December, to bike significantly more frequently. I started biking in to work 1-2 days a week in November, but in December my hours increased (from 8 to 20 per week!) and I needed to commute 4 days a week. That regular time outside exercising is amazing for mental regulation and emotional health, at least for me! And the reason for the change is also something I’m excited about, both for 2019 and going into 2020: I have the chance to learn bioinformatics and transition over the next 6 months from the genomics wet lab team to the bioinformatics team, which gives me a chance to learn something I’ve been interested in for years and develop skills which will be even more valuable for my career.
Outside of work, I’m looking forward to an opportunity to help develop neurodiverse community and support at my church. The woman who’s been running the special needs children’s ministry wants to reshape it to better reflect acceptance and neurodiversity, multiple people have anonymously asked the pastors about ministries specifically for neurodiverse adults, several pastors across our web of churches are working on formulating a theology of disability, and I’m apparently one of the adults they know of who is neurodiverse. Hopefully they will not ask only me, since neurodiversity is by definition diverse 🙂 But I really appreciate that they care deeply about the whole spectrum of the children of God, that they don’t want to make it something that neurotypical people are doing to or for us without our input or leadership, and that I have a chance to be involved!
With all of that said, I have just a few resolutions for the new year.
First, I resolve to pray every day. Things are just better when this happens, like marriage is better when I actually spend time talking with Paul 😛
Second, I resolve to write on this blog more frequently. My goal is approximately every 3 days – so, 122 posts for the year. I have lots of ideas but often don’t post for reasons that don’t make sense outside of my head, so I’m going to try to let go of my perfectionism and just share my thoughts.
Third, I resolve to read a variety of good books and keep a book log again! That was such a good experience in the past and I really need to get out of my fan fiction rut anyway. (I already have two books on my list and I can’t wait to write about them!)
How about you, readers? Any highlights from the year (or decade)? Anything you’re resolving for the New Year or especially looking forward to? Or conversely, any challenges from the past or apprehension about the future? I always love to read your thoughts.
One of my favorite short Harry Potter fan fictions, Sanctuary by Sheankelor, centers on a Severus Snape who is deeply, devotedly Catholic, and follows him through the war and its aftermath (Snape doesn’t die from the snakebite in this story) from the perspective of his parish priest and friend, who is also a wizard. The way faith is woven into the fabric of his life as he balances the demands of his dual role in the war – how it influences every decision he makes even as it remains hidden to protect his church community, how it is his source of strength when the strain of staying in Voldemort’s good favor is overwhelming (especially in the final year when even his former allies and fellow teachers are convinced he is against them), how it provides him with a pathway of repentance and renewal and lifelong conversion – it is simply beautiful, and utterly inspiring. If you like Harry Potter and aren’t averse to fan fiction I would definitely recommend it.
Partly inspired by Sanctuary, and partly because trying to pray the liturgy of the hours on my phone proved to be too distracting, I used my birthday present from my Grandma to buy the one volume version of the liturgy of the hours, Christian Prayer. I think it is going to take a while for the structure of the prayer to become more natural, so that I can focus more on the substance of the prayer, but I love the ritual and beauty of it. I especially appreciate that the book contains not only musical settings for the recommended hymns (most of which I didn’t know and had to skip on the iBreviary app since I wasn’t raised Catholic!), but also has tonal settings for the antiphons, psalms, and canticles! It is so nice to be able to sing the psalms with a guide instead of making up something on my own and winging my way through it (especially since I am not particularly good at coming up with my own chant tones…). And I am hoping that I can make these prayers enough of a natural habit that I can begin to share them with my family, since they are ultimately designed to be prayed communally.
In other news, Limerick turned five this week! It’s hard to believe he’s so old already when he’s still so small and snuggly sometimes – but on the other hand, it does make sense considering he can read fairly well and is comfortable with multiplication and division… but I suppose a bit of back and forth like that is to be expected in early to middle childhood. He’s expanding his interests a bit as he grows older, also: instead of just numbers, he’s now interested in numbers, the solar system, and climbing 🙂 One of his favorite games these days is to pretend he’s changing the size of the planet he’s on and acting like he’s experiencing the resulting changes in gravity.
For his birthday, as he’d spent weeks resolutely proclaiming that he wanted no party, no presents, no people, and no cake, Paul and I took him to the Phoenix Rock Gym while my mom watched Rondel and Aubade. (While they don’t advertise this on their website, kids under 6 are only $5 for a day pass including gear rental, and it’s completely free to belay. So it was quite affordable for Limerick and I to take turns climbing with Paul as our alternate belayer!). He did so well, especially considering it was his first time doing that type of climbing. We spent about 2.5 hours climbing together – he would give a trail 3 tries and then take a break while I climbed one – and he got about twenty feet up several times but was a bit too nervous to climb higher. And he liked it enough to want to go back!
Towards the end of our climb, another climber had a seizure and woke up extremely disoriented (he started fighting the EMTs and had to be restrained to go to the hospital 😦 ). It was really hard to watch. The man who was one of my closest mentors in junior high and high school was a rock climber, and passed away 9 years ago from brain cancer; needless to say, he had a lot of seizures along the way. So I was already in a place saturated with his memory, and then witnessed a reminder of the illness that left him vulnerable and hurting and ultimately took him away. And I felt so bad for the stranger suffering that day, and missed Mike so much at the same time, and thought about the man who represented strength and toughness and running the race of faith with endurance being so utterly helpless and out of control, and there was nothing I could do about any of it except to pray.
It did leave me thinking about prayers for the dead. This is very much not a Protestant teaching, and it’s also not something I’ve spent a lot of time studying from a Catholic perspective. I understand praying to the saints – we know they are in heaven, we know God gives them the ability to hear us, intercede for us, and sometimes even respond to us. But most of the dead that we knew personally aren’t canonically recognized saints, although they very well could be in heaven rather than in purgatory – and that uncertainty makes me unsure of how to pray for them. At least I have the assurance, with Mike, that he was striving for Jesus and trusting his soul to the mercy of God. The pain of the death of a loved one without that knowledge must be so much sharper and more desolate.
I suppose that in that case, as in the case of anything that seems hopeless or in the face of any call to despair, prayer is the only support we have left. It is the one unbroken thing in this broken world: because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that cannot be uttered when our own words fail; because Jesus Himself stands before the Father on our behalf when our sin leaves us again in need of His mercy; because through the cross there is always an open door for us to come as supplicants, as worshippers, as beloved children into the holy of holies where God Himself hears our weak and feeble voices with understanding and with love. Of course the Apostle Paul tells us to pray constantly, when prayer is such a gift!
Join me over at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the seven quick takes linkup this week – and if you have thoughts on prayer, please do comment with them; I would love to hear from you.
Right now, I’m so thankful for the communion of saints and for the wisdom of the church in setting up set days to remember them! I’m thankful for St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast day was earlier this week, and her reminder to me that all that matters is to love God – and that I can love Him completely and faithfully in each small, tedious, mundane act of service and duty that I do. I’m thankful for her example of perseverance and submission, accepting the waves of life as God brought them and honoring the human authorities over her.
I’m also thankful for St. Francis, who we celebrate today, and his radical yet simple life of faith. How could I not want to learn from and follow in the footsteps of a man who saw and respected the beauty and dignity of all nature without succumbing to the nature-worship of the ancients or the romantic poets, who received visions from God but interpreted them so literally that he may have been autistic and certainly appeared foolish, who embraced that foolishness and transformed it into complete humility, who designed his own way of life and faith yet never broke fellowship with the institution of the Church, who lived in utter poverty and served the least and the forgotten? When a person’s prayers are preserved 700 years after their life and still ring with deep resonance and passion, that is a person I want to emulate and honor, whose prayers I wish to echo.
I’m thankful also for the warrior saints – for the angel Michael, who we celebrated on Michaelmas, and for his legendary archetype St. George fighting the dragon. Life can seem so big and demanding and overwhelming to a child, like the dragon loomed large over St. George, but in the saint we find inspiration to fight our dragons, to get up and try again even when we are knocked wounded to the ground, until they are finally slain. Like Michael fighting demons to bring the message of God to Daniel, using his strength and courage and valor to persevere in obedience, so we can summon up those traits (by the grace of God, and by practice and growth) to fight back the temptations to fear, laziness, anger, and any other vice that besets us. We read an illustrated rewriting of Spencer’s version of St. George and the Dragon this year, and it has given both the boys and myself extra motivation to endure in doing good even when it is hard. We know there are dragons; it is good to be reminded that they can be killed.
I’ve been thankful for the weather recently as well! The heat broke and several days of rain blew inland from a hurricane, just a couple weeks after I seeded for the fall garden season, so all the little plants are doing beautifully and the sweet potatoes (which had to be started in the summer) are absolutely thriving – I’m trellising them so the vines don’t take over the garden beds and the vines are at least six feet up the trellis already.
The kids were also so excited about the rain, as it’s such a rare occurrence here and the monsoons were weak this summer. We went on walks all around the neighborhood to enjoy it, Aubade splashing in every puddle, Rondel searching for treasure along the way, and Limerick challenging my strangeness by biking around barefoot in pajama pants and a winter jacket…
There have also been some hard days recently – my moods and autistic sensitivities both oscillate based on a number of factors including my monthly cycle, and irrational guilt plus social anxiety plus hair-trigger sensitivities to certain sounds or touch does not make for a pleasant time. But I am so thankful that Paul understands and supports me through those times. He might not relate to it at all, but he knows it’s a struggle I have and he carries the extra weight of it when I can’t without ever making a big deal about it or drawing attention to himself. He doesn’t get upset when I hide by myself in a curtained side area during church service instead of sitting with him on days when I can’t tolerate the people around me. He makes time for me to rest and then makes sure that it happens when I need it. In short, he is always showing me love.
And finally, I’m thankful for prayer and the Word and a God who draws near to us and longs for us to draw near to Him. I’m thankful for the sacraments: for the physical and tangible things God uses to convey His grace, like the mud and spit He used to give the blind man sight, and the waters of baptism that cleanse more than just our bodies. I’m thankful for His plan of redemption, for the hope that all broken things will be restored and that the glory to come will outweigh the suffering of the present, for the opportunity to say yes to His will and be a part of making all things new.
What are you thankful for this week? I’d love to hear the good things God is working in your life, whether it’s in the weather or a book or a relationship 🙂
“I observe, first of all, that, according to Scripture, the self-denial which is the test of our faith must be daily. ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’ [Luke 9:23] It is thus St. Luke records our Saviour’s words. Accordingly, it seems that Christian obedience does not consist merely in a few occasional efforts, a few accidental good deeds, or certain seasons of repentance, prayer, and activity; a mistake, which minds of a certain class are very apt to fall into. This is the kind of obedience which constitutes what the world calls a great man, i.e. a man who has some noble points, and every now and then acts heroically, so as to astonish and subdue the minds of beholders, but who in private life has no abiding personal religion, who does not regulate his thoughts, words, and deeds, according to the law of God. Again, the word daily implies, that the self-denial which is pleasing to Christ consists in little things. This is plain, for opportunity for great self-denials does not come every day. Thus to take up the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all, it consists in the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.
“[…] Rise up then in the morning with purpose that (please God) the day shall not pass without its self-denial, with a self-denial in innocent pleasures and tastes, if none occurs to mortify sin. Let your very rising from your bed be a self-denial; let your meals be self-denials. Determine to yield to others in things indifferent, to go out of your way in small matters, to inconvenience yourself. […] This is one great end of fasting. […] Make some sacrifice, do some distasteful thing, which you are not actually obliged to do, (so that it be lawful,) to bring home to your mind that in fact you do love your Saviour, that you do hate sin, that you do hate your sinful nature, that you have put aside the present world. […] Try yourself daily in little deeds, to prove that your faith is more than a deceit.” – John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 1, Sermon 5
In college I read quite a bit of Kierkegaard – some was assigned for my freshman honors seminar, and I kept going from there – and one of the major themes that has stuck in my memory since then is single-mindedness. I always find it challenging to quote succinctly from Kierkegaard, since he did not write in easily divisible points but in arguments crashing over and rolling underneath each other like ocean waves at the shore, and it is necessary (or at least highly recommended) to read a whole discourse to grasp the end to which all his words were tending. So in that light I would encourage you to read “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing” – but I will also attempt to include some short excerpts.
In that particular discourse, Kierkegaard began by contemplating the words of James: “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anythings from the Lord.” (James 1:6-8). Those are concerning words to anyone who looks inside themselves and sees the draw of our desires and thoughts to multiple things: a desire to be loved, or to be respected, or to gain power, or to accumulate wealth, or to live comfortably, and so on. We try to follow God while part of our heart gazes mournfully off to the side, complaining and trying to persuade us to take a different path; we avoid the unseen and tedious acts of faith like daily prayer and Scripture reading while continuing to perform the outward acts of church attendance and token service; we pamper and comfort our bodies instead of ruling over our physical desires and denying them for the sake of the good; in short, we love God with only part of our mind, part of our heart, part of our soul, and part of our body (cf. Matthew 22:37).
For of course, the only unchangeable One is God, so the only one thing that we can will, the only single purpose and direction we can have that doesn’t change through the seasons of life and even past death, is God Himself. The Psalms are continually pointing that out, after all. “Whom have I in heaven but You?” the Psalmist asks, “And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides You.” (Ps. 73:25). And again, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4). Those are the words of a heart truly desiring God above all else and choosing to seek Him alone, not the changing passions of the body or the changing ideals of human culture.
What I have been realizing, stumbling through the Psalms and the Epistles in ways clearly not of my own planning, remembering that lingering philosophy, is that it is not easy to be single-minded, to have unity of purpose within myself, to truly and honestly will one thing in heart and mind and body and soul. I can say that I want the Good but be too cowardly to act on it when confrontation (or even just conversation) is warranted, showing that my will is also for safety and peace. Or I could be too undisciplined to pursue the Good diligently, again showing that I also desire comfort and convenience. And all the time I should be striving to say with the Apostle Paul that “one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
But as Kierkegaard reminds us, there is help from the Spirit along the way, and the chance for repentance to choose to set aside our sin once more and attempt again to follow God with unity of mind and with totality of self. Our salvation is not a single prayer to cover all time, but a lifetime of learning and growing and choosing to walk in the path of the Lord, desiring Him and loving Him with all that we are, setting aside all that distracts and unifying all that is good and helpful into that greatest Good of all.