The Ninety-Seventh Letter: Sacrament and the Trinity

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Dear Daughters,

One of our professor friends recently asked me to be a special guest in a theology class she teaches called “Women in the Christian Tradition.” All of her other special guests this semester have been ordained ministers, but she asked me, a non-full-time-minister, to come and talk about how faith informs and shapes my vocation — as artist, writer, mother, wife, daughter, friend. Every part of my life.

Basically, she knows I’m a thinker, even an over-thinker, so she knew I would have plenty to say.

And of course she was right.

I certainly talked about my vocation in descriptive terms: writer, poet, novelist, handletterer, painter, copyeditor, liturgist, logo-designer, homeschool teacher, small group leader, ordained deacon, after-school program volunteer, INFJ, Highly Sensitive Person, collector of stray people.

And I shared my faith journey, how experiences in both conservative, progressive, charismatic, and liturgical communities have enriched my spiritual life and given me important signposts that keep me on the path. How I’ve learned that at the heart of our faith is a radical call to love, and if we say we take Scripture seriously, we can’t get around that.

And then I talked about how my faith has given me some important lenses through which I see the world and my role in that world as part of the Kingdom of God.

Girls, it wasn’t until I sat down before the class and started jotting down notes to organize my thoughts (in my normal non-linear free-writing way) that I began to articulate some of these connections. And those connections surprised me.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly write a lot about faith and vocation. I write it, I think it, I say it. 

I write a lot about attentiveness and why it matters.

I write a lot about sacrament and how fruitful it can be to see grace in ordinary, mundane moments.

And I also write a lot about the Trinity. When I pray in church, I pray Trinitarian prayers. When we light our three candles at home on the dining room table, I’ve taught you to say “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” or “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

(In church last week, one of the hymns had the words “Holy Spirit” in it, and so I leaned over to the Bean to whisper, “Holy Spirit, like in the Trinity,” and you looked at me, confused, and said, “Um, yeah, I know that.” As if of course you know the members of the Trinity like they’re your BFFs.)

But still, still, I was surprised, even knowing that I write on these topics all the time, I was still surprised as I jotted down notes to share with this class how intertwined these ideas are. I was surprised at the extent to which how I see my vocation is shaped by the particular ideas of sacrament and the Trinity, and all of this is wrapped up in attentiveness.

When I use the terms ‘sacrament’ and ‘sacramental,’ I am circling around the definition of capital-S Sacrament, that is, a visible sign of invisible grace, but I don’t mean that exactly.

I mean more a sacramental imagination, a way of seeing the world and all of my ordinary, lived experiences as places where I can point to the grace of God breaking through. Because, of course, I believe that God does break through into normal, ordinary experiences. And so this idea of seeing the world with sacrament-tinged vision really has shaped me and continues to shape me.

A sacramental understanding of lived experience is, I’m pretty sure, how I survived those early years of motherhood, and is the reason I have written nearly 100 of these letters. I want you to see that this lived and ordinary life we live is worthy of notice. It’s holy. And it matters.

But maybe it’s harder to see how I instinctively connect the Trinity to this idea of vocation. I mean, let’s be real, a lot of Christians say they “believe” in the Trinity but most of us are actually trying to explain it to our children using heretical ideas that got people killed in the early centuries of the faith. Because the Trinity is hard to get. Hard to understand. Harder still to articulate. Anyone who pretends otherwise hasn’t really spent much time in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John. Besides, even the Eastern and Western Churches have disagreement over the doctrine of the Trinity.

I have struggled for a significant portion of my adult life to understand why it matters at all as a doctrine and instead have taken on faith the idea that it mattered to the early church so clearly it must matter.

In recent years, I’ve taken to using Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer as a way to help me understand the Trinity. And I promise you that it’s not solely as a way to avoid using gendered words for God, though you know these things also matter to me.

No, it’s more like this: when I think about God as Creator, and God as Redeemer, and God as Sustainer, it makes it more clear to me what it means that we have the image of God, the imago dei, in us. 

When I pray to a God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains, I better know how to live in the world. I better know how to fulfill my vocation as a little-c creator, a little-r redeemer, a little-s sustainer.

When we see that our calling is to be creators, we recognize a call to create beauty from chaos. That is the story of Genesis. That is what is needed as we look at the chaos in our world today. Do you feel overwhelmed in the chaos, girls? Create beauty.

When we see our calling to be redeemers, we recognize a call to work for justice, for restoration in all its forms, but especially on behalf of those least able to work for it themselves. The most vulnerable. Just as, in our vulnerability, Jesus came to show us how to live and how to offer our lives. But even more: he came to set things right.

When we see our calling to be sustainers, we recognize a call to restore community, to reach outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that we do not serve alone, we do not get by alone, we cannot turn inward to find God but outward. God is community.

And we cannot do any of this–we cannot see the glimpses of grace in the ordinary, we cannot be the people of God in the world living fully into the imago Dei--without attentiveness.

We must be attentive to God’s work (yes, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer) in the world.

And we must be attentive to see the work that needs to be done–where beauty can rise from the chaos, where there is injustice and unjust systems, where our own conveniences and privilege stand in stark contrast to the lives of the most vulnerable, where there are broken communities in need of healing, of hope, of love.

So, girls, I am convinced that even as we witness God’s grace breaking through into ordinary lived experience, the call to action remains great.

Because it is a call to love.

When we pay attention, that’s what we find is at the center of our vocation as the people of God.

A call to love.

Love,

Your Momma

 

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The Fiftieth Letter: It Just Feels Full

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Dear Daughters,

Yesterday, I had to walk by Christmas trees and ornaments at WalMart in order to get to the mums. The mums! In October! Which is the perfect time to purchase mums for your front porch.

And there were the Christmas trees.

Sigh.

Forget Advent. Forget Thanksgiving. It’s not even Halloween yet, girls.

I was perturbed.

Maybe it’s just me, but I want to appreciate the mums and pumpkins and cider and colored leaves on the trees. I don’t want to move on to the next thing, to answer your questions about why we can’t buy that bin of silver balls, to talk about how pretty that wreath is.

I want to enjoy the swingset in the cool breeze, taking you out on a run without having to slather you in sunscreen, painting pumpkins and maybe even that random decorative squash a friend gave us that is shaped like a character out of Veggie Tales. I don’t want to start counting down to Christmas, and worry about what our travel plans are for Thanksgiving, and Christmas lists and gifts and painting a Jesse Tree.

It’s too much, it’s too fast, the calendar is too full. It stresses me out.

Well, it does when I look at it that way.

But sometimes I don’t look at it that way.

I glanced at my monthly calendar this morning and was astounded at All The Things on the schedule. It’s felt a little hectic the last few weeks, and no wonder. It has been.

All The Things distract us and keep us busy, All The Things pile up and wear us down, All The Things fill up our weeks, our semesters, our days, our moments.

But there was a moment of grace this morning. I felt a distance when I looked at the calendar because I realized that All The Things are things we do; they are not the things we are. They are what we do but they do not determine the way we do life.

I am more convinced than ever that a full life does not have to be a stressful life. A full life does not have to feel like a “busy” life. Full might mean doing a lot of things–or it might not.

It’s more like a way of approaching the things on the calendar. Because the calendar will be full regardless.

A full life is about being present.

Being attentive in the moments.

Breathing.

Enjoying the warm breeze, or the cool breeze, the feel of those soft mum blossoms as I water them every day. My mom tells me that’s how you keep them alive.

For me, it’s taking the time to write, to make art, to create, to paint. It’s reading a novel instead of watching TV. It’s putting down the novel to set you up to paint a pumpkin.

I was astounded last week when I sat down to go through these fifty letters and the poetry I’ve written over the last four years, to sift through the words I’d forgotten I’d written in order to share some of them publicly at a poetry and art night at our local arts and cultural center. Girls, there were so many words. I’ve written so many words. But I’ve been so tired for four years, girls. So tired. How could this be? It perplexed me. It still does.

Being present means seeing the way grace is already present in my life.

Being present means slowing down to really see beauty.

Because when I slow down in the moments, the days slow down too, the whole life slows down.

The busy-ness becomes full-ness instead. The activities become separate from the way we feel about the world.

And that full-ness, even when I’m bone tired, becomes happiness.

That sounds trite, doesn’t it? To say that I’m happy?

Of course, I’m worn out and frustrated and on the verge of losing my temper a lot of the time, too, more times than I like to admit, but when I do that whole being-attentive-thing? There is peace there. There is happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, the truth is, I didn’t really want to scrape Cinnamon Life out of the carpet this afternoon. But I did it. And for some reason, as I sat on the floor, there was peace there.

I did not like extending my shopping trip to WalMart yesterday by stopping in the bathroom for a potty-training two year old. But I did it. And, okay, there was not peace there. You spilled my purse on the floor. But there could have been, I can see that. If I hadn’t lost my temper.

I haven’t really wanted to read a Harry Potter book every week for the last four weeks. But I’m doing it. Making space for these enormous books in my life—750 pages this week, girls–means making space for good discussions in our house on Thursday nights with college students and friends.

I didn’t want to do my freelance work from a desktop computer tucked halfway into a hall closet last week when our ethernet cable went bad, but I did it. And even found it amusing at times, working in a linen closet.

Most days, I don’t want to rise early to have some quiet before you wake up, and some mornings I don’t, but some mornings I do.

I don’t like to wash the dishes or do tedious chores like folding laundry, but when I’m willing to see grace here, I’ve found in that tedium surprising moments of meditation when I’ve least expected it. I was asked at my poetry reading about inspiration and writing habits, and I realized that most of my ideas for poems and blog posts come when I’m chopping vegetables.

This, girls, is a happy season. It’s a tiring season. It’s a full season. There is much to do and places to go and ministries to serve and friendships to build and art to make and you to love and hold and snuggle and teach.

Sometimes it feels stressful, if I let it.

But most times, it just feels full.

And happy.

Love,

Your Momma