It’s a New Year
Cleaning out the drawer of my old desk, I found a yellowed sheet of stationary with my initials monogrammed at the top. In my scrawling handwriting was a list of New Year’s Resolutions with no date, but I’m guessing it was written over ten years ago, before David and I added “the little family” to our menagerie. I had to chuckle! The list included: a desire to be a more intentional, less “fly by the seat of your pants” mom, to finish my master’s degree, to open a monthly farm to table French-inspired restaurant in the backyard called “Bistro Mason.” A note in the margin suggested my famous banana chocolate chip muffins would be treats taken home by my guests for their breakfasts. Next on the list was to see my writing published, to become fluent in French, to visit Haiti, to finally attack The Brother’s Karamazov and last of all to welcome a pair of peacocks and a llama to the mix. In full transparency, I don’t think a single one was accomplished that year, if ever! What I am most proud of about the list is that I clearly was looking forward to the future. My dreaming reflected a hopeful soul.
The discovery of my list seems God-sent because for the last two years I haven’t even made one. The pandemic sent me into survival mode. The fear of the unknown and the genuine effort to keep “the Mason boat” afloat took priority. It felt all business, all the time. I am craving a new lightness of being. I want to dream again. God never ceases to dream, nor should we. It’s time to move forward with hope.
Time is precious. None of us know how much sand remains in our hourglass so we cannot afford to focus any more time and energy on the uncertain, the scary, the negative. God is focused on what new and marvelous things are forthcoming. Maybe permitting ourselves to dream again is the path out of this valley and up to a new vista. An author I admire clips inspiration photos and wallpapers her writing nook with them. Hopeful people dream!! She has a cut-out of the New York Times Bestsellers list next to a picture of a gondola floating down a Venetian canal and beside that a parakeet. She has always dreamed of having a bird who can deliver a good joke. It’s time to creatively vision what the future could hold for us—all the infinite possibilities. Welcome holy pivots and the courage to try something new.
Never is the earthly experience going to be perfect or pain-free. What I do know is my faith, my family, my marriage, my ministry, my writing, my pluck—deserve a new and hopeful posture. Madeleine L’Engle in her spiritual memoir, Bright Evening Star, confided that periodically we all have to be refilled with the energy needed for the work of love. She said she envisions herself a very small car turning into a gas station to be filled up with faith. Following are some spiritual disciplines for the rebuilding of our inner reserves of hope.
Spiritual Disciplines for 2022
Cup of tea and a cookie: I adopted this English ritual in graduate school when I was living in London. Every day around 4 pm in the afternoon, following English custom, I would stop whatever I was doing, prepare a cup of tea with honey accompanied with a warmed chocolate chip cookie. I would either sit in the heavily-mullioned window of my tiny flat in the winter or out in my neighbor’s serene Japanese garden. No work, no phone calls, no TV. Nothing happened in that fifteen minute “tea ceremony,” except rest, reflection, laughter and peace. I have been more “task master” than “mystic” of late and that is a recipe for spiritual burn-out. I need more daily insertions of peace. It’s less about the tea, and more about stopping the spin and re-centering myself. My favorite teas are SportsTea and Rooibus.
Feed People: Nothing makes me happier than setting my table, whipping up a healthy, creative and delicious menu and then feeding people. I can count on one hand the number of dinners I have prepared for those outside my nucleus family during the pandemic. It has been a real loss of joy for me. Feeding people is my love language. But even more than enjoying a roasted chicken or a lovely chocolate cake, it’s the gathering experience, almost mystical when we laugh, share stories, and commiserate. I then feel like I’m not alone in this world. It is time to tie on the apron, set the table, and make some mischief again in the kitchen. Let’s feed our bodies and souls.
Take a filling of beauty: Recently, I had the opportunity to hear a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. How exhilarating it was. I walked away feeling young and radiant. The moment the solo violinist launched into his stirring rendition of Winter, I felt a spark of joy, all seemed it was possible again in this broken world. I remembered Archbishop Desmund Tutu’s commandment: Do not postpone joy! The soul is nourished by nature, music, poetry, art, worship, and invigorating new experiences. God knew that we could endure anything if our souls regularly feasted on goodness, beauty and love. We become what we have taken into ourselves!
Be Creative: My spiritual life expands when I create something. For the last twenty years, I have written sermons, reflections, prayers, poetry, even a couple of novels. Writing offers me reflective space to be curious like a child, to dig in for what really matters to me, to wrestle with my doubts and to dialogue with God. When the creative sparks fly it can feel near transcendent, deep joy the reward.
Take care of people! This past week, I anointed my beloved friend Tallu with the most beautiful oils I could find. Rubbing the fragrant oils into her arms, legs and marking her forehead with the sign of the cross I wanted her to feel my love for her. The Pandemic has created this unhealthy distance between us. Fist pumps and nods of the head do not suffice. We need to embrace each other in happy times and when life is scary or heart-breaking. Jesus knew our lives are purposeful and holy when we are intimate and vulnerable with one another. Let this be the year we rediscovered this truth. Bring back the hug.
Read the Bible: This one may surprise you. I read the Bible regularly but over the last two years it has been more for my graduate work and profession. I am going to revisit the spiritual practice of Lectio Divinia, which is simply meditating on little morsels of scripture for the sole purpose of seeing what it makes me feel on the inside in the present moment. I am currently reading Matthew Chapters 5-7 and it feels like a road map forward to a new land. I am also reading a Psalm a day for hope.
Honor the Sabbath: Twenty-five years ago, I shared an office in New York with an Orthodox Jewish couple who truly honored the commandment of the Sabbath. Thursday evenings for their family were spent cooking and cleaning their apartment in preparation for the Shabbat. From dusk on Friday until dusk on Saturday, they were forbidden to do any work. My friend Sarah equated the spiritual practice to a weekly vacation. They would listen to music, read books, nap, take a walk in the park, make love. I remember thinking it was a bit indulgent. Another colleague commented, “Look at the time they lose!” How wrong and naive we were!! Sabbath is God’s gift to us. It is a healing balm for our task-obsessed, achievement-focused, 24-7 on, worn-out culture. I work on Sunday mornings, but Sunday afternoons going forward will entail cozy sweats, sitting in the garden, relishing a cup of tea, and devouring a novel for the pure pleasure of it. God would not have made it one of the ten commandments if God didn’t believe it imperative to our flourishing.
Could 2022 be the year for peacocks and llamas? It’s back on the list. Ha! Don’t tell David!
Happy to be back with you,