Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why I love the Jews and the Ancient Greeks

One of the handicaps that I have in my faith is that I grew up hearing things from the Christian religion being confused with really bad theology. I adore the practice of lectio divina which helps me savor small bits of Scripture over and over for wisdom and clarity. (One of my Carmel teachers called lectio divina "chewing over Scripture in your mind.)

I also find comparative religion to be very helpful. Somehow the contrast between Jewish thought and Christian thought make my own faith extra clear to me. I also like reading the thoughts of Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato. I reread Plato's Allegory of the Cave recently and thought "Wow! So this is what St. John of the Cross was talking about!"

By accident, I found this website during morning prayer. I loved this paragraph:

"The Jewish idea of freedom is best summarized by that very famous expression-"Praise the servants of God who are not the servants of the Pharaoh." That is, freedom is seen as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself-True freedom means to be free of outside influences and pressures so that we can be free to pursue ultimate meaning-relationship with God."

I read this well reasoned paragraph and thought "Oh, so THAT is what we are doing in Lent!"

Lent is the movement from slavery to freedom. Lent means we wander in the desert for 40 days. We give up our taste for cucumbers and meat. (Like the complaining Hebrews in the wilderness). We train for spiritual battle, so that we can be more free to embrace the responsibility that accompanies our joy on Easter Day.

I am so thankful for the Jewish faith! My husband's last name and is family are Jewish. We're pretty sure that some direct ancestor was at Mount Sinai listening to Mr. Moses. In this time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, all of us in the church have Moses and Elijah and St. John the Baptist urging us forward in our faith. Thinking about being a small part of a 5,000 year joint conversation with God, the Father Almighty is amazing. I hope that we all make leaps and bounds in our faith journey this year! May Easter find each one of us closer to becoming truly free!

Here is a quote from Socrates which is perfect for Lent!


Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Hard Lent = An Easy Life

It's February! We've had 2 weeks of the flu at our house. Then the Washington DC area got with an Arctic Chill and two blizzards. Last Friday morning, my husband and I woke up to the downstairs thermostat reading 53 Degrees. That number started to feel dangerous to me in a house with 3 kids under age 5. My husband is brave with this kind of hardy suffering stuff while I'm a total chicken.

So I went upstairs, to our warmer bedrooms, and googled "How cold is a safe temperature for the inside of a house?" (Because I'm a writer who solves all her problems with the internet). Oh my goodness. People are crazy! There are artists in Baltimore who live without heat in loft apartments. When the temperature indoors gets below 45 Degrees these guys build a yurt out of blankets in the center of their living room and drag their cats inside with them.

My husband is a super commuter to Washington DC. He leaves me alone in our house filled with kids each morning at 6 AM, while it is still dark outside. "I'm sure the house will warm up when the sun comes up today!" he said with a reassuring smile as he wrapped layer after layer of a winter scarf around his neck. 

"Hmmmm....." I wondered quietly inside my own head.

At 9 AM, I put the baby down for a non-nap in his crib. I crept downstairs to avoid waking up all my other five sleeping kids in my house. The thermostat read 52 Degrees! It had gotten 1 degree colder in my house after the sun had appeared for 2 1/2 hours.

Long story short, I find a wood cutter in my in neighborhood. (I'm still freaked out that as a former City girl I live in a town with professional wood cutters). This angel of a man comes in 0 Degree weather to bring me a half cord of wood in an emergency. He doesn't even charge me a premium for making him work in the cold. A tip and a thank you seemed so inadequate. 

Today, my husband stoked the "only for cold weather emergency" wood stove in our basement during an 8 inch Saturday blizzard. The downstairs thermostat reached a toasty 70 Degrees. Upstairs, in our bedroom, it's 5 degrees warmer. I feel like I'm in Florida. There are no socks on my feet and my nose isn't freezing!

When the temperature got to 68 Degrees a basement pipe burst spilling water all over our cold weather gear. My husband put on his only pair of dry sneakers to go to the hardware store in the middle of a snowstorm. The roads were unplowed and messy. He said the only people in the store were professional plumbers. A kind plumber directed my husband how to get the right supplies to fix the leak. Tonight my husband replaced his first ever copper pipe. I was so proud of him. We went from no water in the house to "no problem" in a matter of minutes. Can you imagine?

Instead of waiting for an emergency plumber visit, we watched "Clash of the Titans" for movie night, and laughed about all our favorite Greek myths. We ate salmon out of a tin can with cream cheese on crackers for dinner. Best of all we are warm. We had water to take showers, wash the dishes and do laundry. When my husband was fixing the broken cooper pipe next to my huge, 8 family member basement laundry pile, I kept telling him "Thank you!" I can handle doing emergency laundry by hand in the summer months, but doing that same task in the middle of winter seems so much harder to me.

It's Lent and Lent means hard work. I hate fasting. I hate the cold. I hate sickness and dark, bleak weather. I hate the emergencies that crop up without warning in a large family. Lent seems so hard for me until suddenly it's over and suddenly I'm grateful for the all small mercies in my life. Tonight I'm grateful to have running water and warm heat. I'm grateful my kids are finally healthy and cheerful again. I'm grateful the hot guy I married for looks alone can handle emergency plumbing work. All the hard work in Lent feels like it moves me somewhere more peaceful and more calm at the end. I'm grateful that in meaningful suffering Christ hands me an express pass to the easy life!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ash Wednesday



My goal for this Lent is a little abstract. I resolved to stop "auditioning for God." I hope we all bear good fruit this Lent and reach Easter Sunday lighter, calmer, and more free.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Our Valentine's Day Story

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I had our first Valentine's Day Date. We had only met three weeks beforehand at a bar in Madison, Wisconsin. I was in my last semester of Law School. He was working in a Healthcare Lab and had a best friend in my Evidence Class. In February 2000, I wasn't sure yet if we counted as "boyfriend & girlfriend". We had only a handful of dates that the mostly revolved around walking in the woods amid deep snow drifts, sipping coffee at the new Starbucks coffeehouse, and watching weird foreign movies together.

Valentine's Day occurred on a Monday that year. On the Sunday beforehand, I invited "my friend" Jon to church, to hear me preach the sermon at an Episcopal Student Mass. He came to see me in the middle of a snowstorm. After the service, he gave me a manila envelopment marked "Secret Agent." Inside there was an invite to watch a DVD screening of the movie "Mission Impossible" with him at midnight.

I meet Jon on a bridge, in the snow, in between the Art School and the Law School. We walked back to my home at the Episcopal Student Co-op. We watched Mission Impossible in the public TV room I shared with 30 other roommates. Near the end of the movie, Jon and I shared our first real kiss. At that moment, Jon decided he was "in like flynn." We got engaged seven months later.

Yesterday, my husband came home from work to enjoy a three day weekend. The younger half of the Benjamin clan spent all of Friday hurting from a bad virus. When my husband kissed me and said "Happy Valentine's Day!" our 4 month old son started coughing in my arms with the most pathetic little sounds. I thought about our first kiss 15 years ago and started laughing.

"When you gave me an invited to see Mission Impossible that first Valentine's Day, I didn't realize you were inviting me into an actual Impossible Mission!"

My husband laughed easily too. "I didn't know what I was getting into either!"

It seems crazy to think that SIX people now owe their lives to a Valentine's Day kiss fifteen years ago. It's a crazy, messy, sometimes impossible task to lead a family these days. I'm grateful to find a guy who makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Who Ever Said that Motherhood Is Anti-Intellectual?

My seven year old went to the public library, picked up a cookbook called "The Art of French Pastry," and begged me to help her learn how to make croissants. She picked out a two-day seven page recipe. I took a quick glance at her cookbook and thought "This is so beyond us!"

I made a joke about her desires not matching our skill level to my husband at dinner. The man is eating chicken and pasta over a real tablecloth and he suddenly looks at me like he is starving. "You could learn how to make croissants?" He said the word "croissants" with such longing and hope.

This morning, I told my daughter "OK, for homeschooling today we are going to work on your croissant recipe. It's going to be hard. We're probably going to fail a lot. But if we master this task, it's going to be so worth it."

I thought I was sort of bending the "school" thing a little bit this morning. Home Ec is nice, but I sort of put it in the "not a serious academic subject" part of life. Ha! Am I totally wrong!

Here is an actual quote from the start of Maria's new croissant recipe:

"Method. Day 1.

1. Make the poolish with a base temperature of 54 degree Celsius. Take the temperature of the flour and the room (convert to Celsius), and add them together. Then adjust your water temperature (Celsius) so that the sum of the three ingredients is 54 degree Celsius. If you wish, you can now convert the result into Fahrenheit." (Pleiffer, Jacquy. The Art of French Pastry, p. 128)

Are you kidding me? I haven't done Celsius/ Fahrenheit conversions since 10th grade science class! This morning, I'm relearning that task, cheerfully, for love of my kid.

I find that Motherhood makes me more flexible in my thinking and my identity. I've long ago decided that I wasn't a "science girl" or a "math girl" or someone good with tools, exercise, etc. Yet in this role as a Mom, I have to reconnect with skill sets and problem-solving methods that I haven't touched for 25 years.

Motherhood is humbling and hard work. Motherhood is also intellectually challenging!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Failure At Forty

Six weeks ago I turned 40 amid a series of failures. I failed to sell my house. I failed to keep a baby in my body until he was full term. I failed to finish two projects I started as a new business owner. For three weeks, I failed to leave my house because of bed rest.

I failed at teaching. I failed at mothering. I failed at writing. I failed at keeping up my strict Carmelite prayer schedule.

I was so scared to turn 40 because I faced that milestone without any shiny achievements to hang my hat on anymore.

It's so crazy on the opposite side of 40, I feel happier. I don't have anything exciting going on in my life to talk about in shorthand among strangers.

But inside me there is a garden.

I feel good. I feel whole. I'm starting to feel like myself again for the first time since I was five years old.

I am not my house. I am not my bank account. I am not a good mother only when my kids are obedient and intelligent and dressed in clean socks and matching earrings. I am not my "output" as a lawyer, as a writer, as a sexy wife, or as a prayerful Carmelite.

There is a "me" underneath all the changes of my life that act as a constant refrain.

I am little. I am insignificant. I am irreplaceable. I am strong. I am brave.

I love.

I love specific people. I love certain books. I love big ideas. I love classic symphonies and strange indi pop songs. I love the ocean and national parks. I love flowers and kids and small animals. I love surrounding myself with growing things, because I am constantly growing myself.

I am so grateful for a full year of failure. I spent too many hours being tense with anxiety before age 40. The young me spent my time showing off for strangers. Now, I am learning how to show off my talents for one, easy to please person---myself.

Ine Hoem - This Year (Official Video)