Before Sunrise

“What is saving your life right now?”  That question, routinely asked by Jen Hatmaker at the end each of her podcast interviews, comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: a Memoir of Faith.  If I were to answer it today, I’d have to say “5:00 a.m.”

Five and I have been friends for a long time.  Left to its own devices, my circadian rhythm always has me up at five o’clock–no matter what time zone I went to sleep in.  When I was in my mid-20’s, working as an executive secretary at US Healthcare, I spent six weeks writing my master’s thesis from five to seven each morning, watching the sky lighten outside the big picture window that was our high-rise apartment’s only redeeming feature.

Now 5 a.m. is saving my life again, for the first time since those thesis-writing days.

The last few months have been my “summer of self-promotion,” as I searched for ways to get Finding God in Ordinary Time in front of the eyeballs of people who would read it, recommend it, and otherwise help me market it.  Now the school year has started, and I’m just a few days away from book launch, and there are SO MANY THINGS I could be doing on any given day, both to promote Finding God and to prepare for the many speaking engagements on my horizon.  And so, most days, 5 a.m. finds me in my rocking chair with coffee and laptop, doing whatever I can to move this work forward.  (At 7:00–at the urging of my doctor–I strap on my Keens and go for a walk before heading to work.  This backfired recently, as my beloved old Keens had worn down so unevenly that they actually threw my back out.  But that’s a blog post for another day.)

As a multi-decade devotee of 5:00 a.m., I would have thought I knew everything there was to know about the hour.  But last month, down the shore (as we say in Philly), I discovered something remarkable.

I have long been a fan of the complicated sunrise, especially over the ocean.  I love watching the sky go through all its vibrant color changes as the sun lights the clouds from below before easing over the horizon; in my book I use it as a metaphor for college campus ministry–witnessing the effects of students’ dawning spiritual adulthood, being grateful each time I am awake to see it.

But in Wildwood, in early August, sunrise is just after six o’clock Do you know what it is at five?  Dark.  Can’t-see-the-ocean dark.  Why-am-I-sitting-on-the-deck-with-coffee dark.

You know what else it is?  Fascinating.

It turns out that–and I am so sorry to know this–the sky is compellingly beautiful a whole hour before sunrise.  The colors keep shifting, but instead of the red-orange-yellow end of the Crayola box, we get a black-navy-purple crayon sky.  I couldn’t get enough of it this year.  I didn’t want to look down–which was okay, because it was too dark to read or write.  I didn’t even want to go inside to refill my coffee, because the sky changed so much from minute to minute.

Wildwood 500

View from the deck at 5:00 a.m., early August, Wildwood NJ

This is how God works, I used to say about the sunrise.  And I still do.  But this is also how God works, I now say about the well-pre-dawn sky.

So many people I know are waiting right now.  Waiting for an employer to call with a job offer.  Waiting for a safe time to break away from a bad relationship.  Waiting for a child to go into recovery, this time for good.  Waiting for discernment to become clear enough for action.  Waiting for healing in body, mind, or spirit.  It’s dark.  Really dark.  Can’t-see-the-ocean dark.  And yet things are happening, well out of sight.  God is at work in each of those situations, I do believe.  The predawn sky has become for me a metaphor for all the spiritual movement that is happening within and around each of us, all the stars slowly aligning, all the things we cannot see that are nevertheless working together for our good.

I’m aware of this happening in my book-launch life.  Much of it is through the behind-the-scenes efforts of Ben Tanzer, whom I’ve never met in person, but who from Chicago is connecting me to all sorts of creative outlets.  (Check out this audio series where you can now hear me read a chapter of my book, or Spiritual Directors International, which featured another chapter as a guest blog post.)  Ben’s going to interview me for his podcast next Friday; that should be a hoot.

And here’s a thing:  I just found out that Amazon has named Finding God in Ordinary Time as their #1 New Release in Religious Humor.  This absolutely cracks me up.  I have no idea how Amazon knows the book is funny, given how many serious topics it includes.  (Four chapters about mothers with cancer.  Four!)  I can’t imagine how it got to be #1 in that super-specific category, but I’m willing to bet that some people will pick it up on the strength of that odd accolade–people who wouldn’t have glanced at it otherwise.  And maybe it will be just what they needed to read.

Herculean human efforts and baffling computer algorithms aside, my hours staring at the black-navy-purple sky in Wildwood reminded me that God is at work in me right now in ways I cannot yet see.  This coming Monday, September 17, the sun is going to rise on Finding God in Ordinary Time.  I will go from being a person who has a book coming out to being an author on book tour (or as much tour as a busy campus minister can muster).  Instead of writing, writing, writing, I’m going to be speaking, speaking, speaking.

Just yesterday, while mentally rehearsing my talk for my first book event (at St. Monica in Berwyn), I felt God say, “So, are you going to talk about you, or are you going to talk about me?”  (Whoops!  YOU, Lord.  Thanks for the reminder.)  And that’s why the  5:00 hours will remain essential.  No matter how busy this season gets, I have to stay grounded in prayer, to allow the message people most need to hear to flow through me, without making it about me.

The days ahead will be anything but ordinary.  If you find yourself awake before sunrise, please pray that they will be extraordinarily blessed!

Christine

 

Eat the Peaches

It’s peach season here at the Jersey shore.  The farm stand on the way into Cape May Point has a big display right out front, better advertising than any roadside sign.  So of course we bought a half-bushel, noting that the peaches were still a bit firm, and thinking we’d have fruit to enjoy for the week.

They ripened overnight, which is how we found ourselves standing over the kitchen sink the other day, eating the most delicious, juicy, warm, perfect peach.  And eyeing the rest of the basket with alarm.  Now what?

Of course we could put them into the refrigerator, or blend them into smoothies (ooh, or daiquiris!) or bake them into muffins, and they’d be good in all those forms.  But they would not be as good as they are this very minute, dripping warm juice down our chins into the sink.

Maybe it’s vacation brain, but the peach dilemma–admittedly minor–has me thinking about my conservative approach to so many things (politics not included).  I am a firm believer in delayed gratification.  As a child, I was always the kid who still had chocolate Easter eggs left in her basket around Memorial Day.  As an adult, I’ll save novels I’m excited about for months so that I can read them in the perfect setting.  (Example from this very week:  I brought Bill Clegg’s amazing Did You Ever Have a Family, which I’d been saving since last year, and downed it in four days at the beach.)

Sometimes this approach is grounded in wisdom (this vacation really was the perfect time to read that book, and nine year-old me really should have done her homework before watching Batman).  But other times it’s rooted in just plain foolishness, or even fear–as though somehow there would be no chocolate left in the world when the Easter basket ran out.

This reminds me of Jan Richardson’s quoting of W. Paul Jones:  Hope is the simple trust that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna.  It’s okay to eat it all, God promised the Israelites in Exodus 16.  In fact, it’s necessary to eat it all.  Hoard it on any day but the Sabbath, and it turns into a smelly mess.  (The same may be true of peaches.)

Fear reared its head at the shore in a different way this week, as I stood at the edge of the surf on Sunday afternoon, navigating my usual tension between longing to be in the water and dreading the waves.  It is my vacation tradition to vacillate in the shallows all week and finally brave it with cousins on the last day, regretting all the times I didn’t take the plunge.  But this year we were with Jeff and Deb, one of my oldest friends and his lovely wife, and Jeff took me by the hand on day one and brought me past the alarming breakers to the sublime rollers beyond.  It was the longest I’ve ever been in the ocean without being able to touch the bottom, and it was pure bliss!  The next day I bravely followed Jeff and Deb into the surf, and for the rest of the week I’ve been going in all by myself, hesitation giving way ever more quickly to delight.

The ocean is right there, beckoning like a basket of ripe peaches.  Delayed gratification, it turns out, is sometimes no gratification at all.

This is also on my mind because Jeff has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  This brilliant and funny man is still both those things, but the creeping fog is visible.  He’s handling it remarkably; the Philadelphia Inquirer even did a story about his “coming out” to his students before he retired as a Temple University professor last spring.  He’s in a clinical trial, which may slow the progression and buy him time.  But time is not infinite.  We have had 31 years of friendship, but in my busy, busy life (insert dramatic velcro-ing of back of wrist to forehead), I often take it for granted that Jeff’s there.  But the Alzheimer’s is making it clear: to postpone enjoying time together is to waste the gift.  Like yesterday’s ocean or an overripe peach, it’s not coming back.

Of course this is true for all our loves and friendships, always.  We are all running out of time.  We just don’t acknowledge it most days, because we need to go to work, and do the wash, and cut the grass, and pay the bills.

But work, wash, grass, and bills notwithstanding, I want to take home from vacation The Lesson of the Peaches.  When life hands me something precious, I want to let myself enjoy it in the measure it deserves.

May your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

Christine

Just Keep Singing

“Calm down,” I told myself yesterday.  “How many times have we been over this?  You know it’s going to be there when you need it.  You blogged about it, for Pete’s sake.  Just keep singing!”

I was cantoring at St. Vincent’s, and the “it” was the Gospel acclamation (i.e. solo verse) to an alleluia that I’ve sung at least a hundred times.  But here was the problem: earlier in the week I’d cantored three Masses on retreat with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, doing an alleluia that I’ve sung at least a thousand times, with a very similar acclamation.  As I sang the opening refrain (once myself, twice with the choir), I realized that I couldn’t anticipate the verse.  I had no idea what I was supposed to sing next.

I tried to hang onto the wisdom I shared last September in a blog post called Holding it Lightly:

It reminds me of lesson I’ve learned from cantoring at St. Vincent’s over the last nine years. I can’t tell you how often I used to get a wash of anxiety during a ridiculously familiar song—seriously, like the Our Father or the Gloria or the Holy Holy—when I realized that I couldn’t think how the next section began. But of course the reason I couldn’t hear that bit in my head is because I was busy singing the current bit. By the time I got to the worrisome part, the piano would be playing it and my brain would have caught up to the music. Sometimes it was touch-and-go; I’d take a deep breath and open my mouth still not certain what was supposed to come out next, but sure enough, out it came, right on time.

Eventually I accepted that if I could stay focused on what I was singing in the moment, the next one would be given to me. As in Luke 12:12: “For the holy Spirit will teach you in that moment what you should say.” Or, come to think of it, as in the Our Father itself, with its request for daily bread (not Costco-sized multi-loaf packages).

And then came the moment of truth.  The refrain ended.  Valerie, our choir director / piano player, nodded at me.  And the verse was nowhere to be found.  Blank slate.  Crickets. (Or–worse–crickets chirping the Celtic Alleluia instead of the Mass of Hope.)

So much for my wisdom, right?

But then a wonderful thing happened.  I gave Val the “I don’t know the verse” face (and yes, that’s a face:  panic-stricken eyes open wide; slight shake of the head) and she started to sing.  At which point, of course, the whole verse came flooding back into my brain and I was fine.

And so my wisdom from last September gets an addendum.   Sometimes God gives us what we need by having someone else hand it to us.

I experienced that reality in my book-life yesterday as well.  As my publication date is just shy of three months away, there is so much work I should be doing:  contacting bookstores, book bloggers, libraries and parishes; developing marketing materials, and strategizing creative ways to get the word out.  The unappealing task of self-promotion could be a full-time job.  Since I have a full-time job, however, I’m just doing what I can in the bits of time around the edges of my days.

But yesterday, out of the blue, I received a surprising email.  One of the lovely women I met on the IVC retreat (where I was also the speaker) went home to Northern Virginia and told a friend about me.  That woman pre-ordered Finding God in Ordinary Time on the strength of her friend’s recommendation, then invited me to exhibit at the Arlington Diocese’s “Future with Hope” Women’s Conference in October.  Suddenly, I have a chance to bring my book to a part of the country I hadn’t even dreamed of reaching.

Indeed, sometimes God gives us what we need by having someone else hand it to us.

And so I will continue to practice holding things lightly, stay open to the messengers of grace God sends my way, and pray that I can share that message with someone who needs it today.

How about you?  What do you need right now?  And who might need something you could easily give?

May this ordinary day be extraordinarily blessed!

Christine

 

 

It’s Time for Ordinary Time

What’s that I see peeking out of the sacristy closet?  Green vestments?  After six weeks of Lent and seven weeks of Easter, it’s time for Ordinary Time at last.

Although I’m always a fan, this year I have a special reason to be excited about Summer Ordinary Time: we have finally entered the season in which Finding God in Ordinary Time will be published!  Seventeen weeks from now, on the 17th of September, my book will be out in the world.

Now all I have to do is get people to notice.  Can you help?

If you’d like to generate some buzz for the book, here are some practical things you can do:

  • If you have a GoodReads account, add Finding God to your “Want to Read” shelf.
  • Consider pre-ordering a copy (or two).  I’m encouraging people to go through my local indie, the Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park, to get a personalized, signed copy.  You can indicate whether you would like to pick it up at the store, get it from me, or have it shipped ($3).
  • Check out my listing at Midpoint Book Sales & Distribution, where you can see other pre-ordering options like Barnes & Noble or (even better) your local indie, and also share on just about any form of social media.
  • Follow me on Amazon (check out my author page)!
  • Write a review for posting on GoodReads and/or Amazon, or anyplace else you can think of (your own blog, a newsletter to which you contribute, etc.).  Advance Reader Copies are almost available, so if this is something you can do, let me know and I’ll get you one.
  • Share with abandon!  Scroll down to the bottom of this page and see which social media options work for you.
  • And be sure you are following this blog so you don’t miss an update.  You don’t have to create a WordPress account; one of the options below is just joining the e-mail list, which is a great way for me to stay in touch.

Thank you to everyone who has encouraged this adventure.

This summer, and always, may your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

Christine

 

 

 

 

Happy Independent Bookstore Day!

Open BookOpen Book Bookstore owners Lynn Rosen and Evan Schwartz

I am delighted to announce that soon and very soon you will be able to pre-order a signed copy of Finding God in Ordinary Time at the Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park, where I celebrated Independent Bookstore Day today with owners, neighbors and friends Lynn and Evan.  You may be able to get an unsigned copy from a bigger-name bookseller for less, but you’ll never get it from friendlier people or do more good for a great local business.  Stay tuned!

Grief and Grace

Friends, I have made it through 25 years working in higher education without teaching a class, but that may be about to end.

Let me back up.

It’s not that I’ve never been in front of a classroom; I love it when faculty friends invite me to speak on a topic, or do one of my dramatic interpretations of women in Scripture, or even cover a class. It’s a great way to connect with students who might never have stepped across the threshold of our campus ministry center.

And it’s not that I’ve never been asked to teach. I have a master’s degree in pastoral ministry, and there are always sections of religious studies classes to be covered. But when asked, I’ve always told the truth: having been raised by two teachers, I respect the discipline too much to think I can just “pick up a class.” That usually leaves no room for rebuttal.

Yet while it’s the truth, it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth includes the fact that, as a person in a pastoral relationship with students, I’ve had no wish to be in an evaluative relationship with them. It also includes the “do-you-have-any-idea-how-full-my-plate-is-already” rant (which I only deliver in my head, or to select friends). But the bottom line, I realized recently, is this: if I’m going to carve out time to work on something that’s not part of my job description, it has to be something I’m excited about. And right now that’s this blog, and my upcoming book launch, and the many wonderful speaking- and retreat-giving opportunities that are opening up for me as a result.  

In the last few weeks, however, a teaching possibility has appeared which actually fits the excitement requirement. As part of our redesigned General Education curriculum, Gwynedd Mercy University is offering something called “Signature Seminars.” Designed by faculty according to their discipline, these courses are “writing intensive” and focused on one of the five Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. People have been telling me I should teach one, and I have been demurring. But during our recent Inauguration Week festivities I attended a symposium on the Signature Seminars, and I found myself sketching out a reading list and playing around with titles. And the next thing I knew, I was filling out the paperwork to start the process of developing a five-week online course for adult learners. Here’s the quick description:

Grief and Grace: Contemporary Women’s Spiritual Writing
How do we make sense of life’s tragedies?  How do we keep going when we are bent by loss?  This course will explore the unique contributions of women reflecting on their experiences of grief in the light of grace.  Students will use the writing assignments to examine their own life stories through the lens of spirituality, uncovering and articulating the deep truths that sustain them. 

Much remains to be done, of course: creating a syllabus, learning how to design an online course (which means taking an online course in online course designing), and familiarizing myself with all the ins and outs and rules and regs of teaching and grading. But the thing I am really excited about right now is building that reading list.

Here are the writers and works I’m considering using (in whole or in part; it’s only a five-week course, after all). Which of these do you affirm? What am I missing? I welcome—invite—your suggestions and comments!

Clearly, I’ve just put together a list that could be hummed to the tune of “These are a few of my favorite things.” I’m intrigued to discover what connections and conversations will emerge in the months to come, and I look forward to seeing what fruit this new venture will bear in my heart, in the cyber-classroom, in my public speaking, and right here in this blog.

Thanks for walking with me.

Christine

 

Author Photo Dilemma

Friends, I have a decision to make.

When Finding God in Ordinary Time is out in the world, people who DO NOT ALREADY KNOW ME are going to be thinking about buying it.  Maybe they will pick up a copy in a bookstore and flip through it.  Maybe they will check out my author page in Goodreads (after I create it, of course).  Either way, one of the things they are going to look at is my author photo.  Which means I need to hurry up and decide which one to use!

Here are my two choices.  I like them both, but they definitely give off two different vibes.  I don’t want to predispose you by saying what I think those vibes are (though I have my opinions), so for simplicity’s sake I am just going to refer to them as “Glasses” and “No Glasses.”  (Don’t worry about the varying image quality; Green Writers Press has a good version of each.)

So, which should it be?

Which is more likely to encourage a stranger to flip or click through?

Please weigh in by commenting “Glasses” or “No Glasses,” and feel free to explain why.  

If you like, you can even insert the rant of your choice:  about the judging of books by covers, about contemporary standards of beauty, etc.  It’s your rant; have at it.  (Goodness knows I’m doing it in my head.)

Thanks for your help!

~ Christine

Let the little children come unto…someone with more patience.

Today’s post is an homage to anyone who works with children.

Last Wednesday evening, my Alternative Spring Break team spent about 90 minutes doing after-dinner childcare at Bethany House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Cincinnati.  We do it every year.  It’s always challenging, but this year was aggravated by an unexpected toy donation that arrived just as dinner was ending:  dozens of light-up flying discs.  (The kind where you pull a string on the handle, and the thing goes sailing across the room.)

I don’t know what the (presumably well-intentioned) donors were thinking.  Did they imagine that these kids would be able to play with them in a park or on the beach some moonlit evening?  Did they envision for one moment what a dozen kids in two small basement rooms would do with spinning, careening, light-up toys?  Any preconceived notions my college students had about actually engaging with the children went out the (non-existent) window, as we spent the whole night trying to keep our charges from injuring themselves or one another as they shrieked, ran, and launched the practically-weaponized toys at one another and at us.  Oh, and cried when they broke.  And accused one another of stealing the unbroken ones.  And cried some more.

We experienced a stark contrast the next morning, as we kept company with the kindergarten class at Corryville Catholic Elementary School.  Those kids were just as squirmy and excitable as the ones at the shelter, of course.  But the difference was in the relationship.  We didn’t know the Bethany kids, and they didn’t know anything about us except that they were never going to see us again.  The Corryville teachers, on the other hand, knew the kindergarteners by name, knew their quirks and interests, and had gained their trust, so they were able to personalize their approach to even the crowd-control aspects of education.  We watched twenty-some five year-olds sit cross-legged, hands in laps, and read along with a Dr. Seuss book on the smartboard.  Amazing!

I do not draw this contrast to be critical of Bethany House.  The staff there is busy trying to attend to their residents’ most basic needs—literally, food and shelter—while helping women coming out of chaotic living situations to find some stable ground for themselves and their families.  The temporary nature of emergency shelter rules out the kind of careful attention that a kindergarten classroom allows.

But children desperately need such careful attention.  It’s not my gift (I work with college students for a reason), but I am in awe of anyone who possesses it.  The heroic patience and endless self-giving that good teachers and other childcare workers demonstrate deserves to be praised–and compensated–as the foundational work of tomorrow’s society.

I’m home from Cincinnati now, heading back to work in the morning.  I will resume my meetings, and project work, and to-do lists.  But I will carry the images of those Bethany House children in my heart, praying that, when this rocky transition is complete, they will find themselves in a place where they are seen, known and loved by the many grownups in their lives, just like the little ones at Corryville.


There is another group of children on my mind., this one much closer to home.  On April 7, our Mercy honor society (Sigma Phi Sigma) is throwing a baby shower for new and expectant moms served by Catholic Social Services in Norristown.  We will decorate, and serve food, and make a fuss, and send them off with useful gifts.  If you would like to help, check out this Amazon wish list for things like diapers, wipes, onesies, blankets, etc.  All items will ship straight to Campus Ministry at Gwynedd Mercy University.  Just remember, the shower is on April 7th so we need things ASAP!


If your daily life or chosen work immerses you in the lives of little children, God bless you.  Thank you for everything you do.  I say it every week, but I say it with extreme fervor in your regard:

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

~ Christine

 

 

 

When the Popping Slows . . .

Today is the day after my editing deadline for Finding God in Ordinary Time.  I have read the book–in its entirety–four times in the last five days.  Here’s what I have learned:

I really like my book.

I must confess that I was a tiny bit afraid that, by the time I hit SEND, I would be sick of the thing.  I am not.  Each time I turn the page and start to re-read another reflection, I think “Oooh, this one!”  This bodes well for the future.

Editing a book is more like making popcorn than I would have thought.

You know the instructions: listen carefully, then pull it from the stove (or microwave) when the popping slows.  I thought I had thoroughly edited the book with Peggy Moran in preparation for Pitch Week, but then my Green Writers Press editor Cathryn Lykes had a lot to say about my commas (AKA bane of my existence), and also noticed a formerly overlooked bad habit of starting too many sentences with conjunctions.  But after she was through with the manuscript (see, I did it again), I thought I would just skim it one more time for typos and be done with it.  Yet I was amazed, on that first pass, how many things I still found to change.  It wasn’t picky grammar stuff anymore, but the nuances of word choices, cadences, and repetition.  (Such as, hey look, I’m about to use the word “fished” for the third time, which is two times too many in a book that has nothing to do with the catching of actual fish.)  I made all my changes, printed it out, and once again thought I would skim and be done.  No such luck.  Only on the fourth pass did the “popping” slow enough . . . one word every 15 pages or so . . . that I could take this thing off the stove and call it done.  (But only for now; apparently I get to do this again when I receive the galleys.)

I am ready for what’s next.

Now it’s time to shift from editing to marketing.  I’ve already started setting up book launch events; for example, I’ll be signing books at the Barnes & Noble at Saint Joseph’s University during HawkFest (September 22, 2-4 p.m.) and doing a couple other events on campus that weekend (stay tuned).  I need to start reaching out to independent bookstores, parishes, retreat centers, and colleges.  Self-promotion is not my best gift, but I am eager to get Finding God out into the world, so I’m willing to do what it takes.  If you would like to invite me to something–to give a talk or do a reading or lead an evening of recollection–please be in touch!  And as soon as the pre-order link is ready, you can bet it will appear here!

Of course, the other “What’s Next?” is a second book.  There’s still too much to do with this one to actually start writing the next, but I am musing, and longing for the day when I can start thinking about broad strokes rather than tiny corrections again.

You may be wondering when the book is coming out, since I just said I’m going to be signing copies on September 22.  I’m happy to announce that I have what we in the industry (ha ha ha) call a “Pub Date” (warning: may not actually involve a pub).  I got to choose, so I have selected September 17, 2018.  This publication date is special for two reasons:  it’s the eleventh anniversary of my mother’s death, and it is also the seventeenth birthday of my goddaughter Elizabeth.  Mom was my first teacher of reading, writing, and religion, proofreading my every paper from grade school to grad school.  And Bizzy was the subject of the first essay I wrote for this collection, way back when she was just five years old.

It has been, as they say, a long time coming.  Thanks for following me on this journey!

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed.

~ Christine

How Long Does it Take to Change?

This season, I am loving Ann Garrido‘s Lenten devotional “The Living Gospel” from Ave Maria Press.  We’re only five days in, of course, but so far each pithy, insightful observation by the author of Redeeming Conflict and Redeeming Administration has kept me ruminating all day.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Ann wrote about the fact that “These Forty Days of Lent” aren’t actually forty days (go ahead, do the math).  Forty is more of a symbolic number.  I knew that the biblical forty generally stands for “a really long time” (think of the Israelites’ forty years in the desert, or Jesus’ forty days in the desert, or the forty days from Easter to Ascension).  But Ann took it a step farther, explaining that the number forty in the Bible represents “the length of time it takes for a change to be complete and something new to begin.”

Wow.

Then, at St. Vincent’s this morning, Fr. Tom McKenna preached about “disruption” as a necessary ingredient in change.  When the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, he suggested, it was more of a “divine shove” than a gentle invitation.

This makes sense to me.  Change does not come easily to most of us.  Often we are pushed into circumstances not of our choosing: the disruption of illness, or trauma, or other external life change.  The internal change (spiritual growth) follows after, if we can open ourselves to the invitation buried in the disruption.  Only then can something new begin.

For many years now, I’ve been encouraging people to “lean into life” during Lent.  “Choose your sacrifices” I say, “but draw close to God in the sacrifices life chooses for you.”  This year, I want to pay attention to disruption: the things that break in and get my attention against my will.  What is God inviting me to through them?   How am I being called to change?  And how long will my forty days be?

The concept of change is something I am itching to explore in a next book (#2 or #3, I’m still not sure). How have I changed over the years?  What made lasting change possible?  Now that I’m less than two weeks out from my editing deadline for Finding God in Ordinary Time, I have this fantasy of having time to re-read the dozens of journals I’ve kept over the years, tracing the origins of what eventually became my firmly held spiritual beliefs.  We shall see.

For now, I just want to keep leaning into life, being present to the demands and disruptions of each day, and marveling at the goodness of God–and other people–in the midst of it all.


And speaking of the goodness of other people . . . thank you to everyone who weighed in last week on my chapter title.  I chose “Finding God in an Outstretched Hand,” in part for the ambiguity of it.  Whose hand are we talking about here?  That of a beggar at the Basilica, or my own?  Or the reader’s?  Thank you to Ann-Therese Ortiz (old friend, spiritual director, and generally wise woman) for the suggestion.  I can’t wait to inscribe your book!

Blessings to all in this holy season.  May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

– Christine