Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Moonlit prayers

 

Her open, glowing face pulls on my soul, insistent as the tide, compelling

honesty. A truth that whispers safely in the darkness of the night.

This light’s illumination is the gentle kind that blurs the lines and shadows,

beauty, in the ambiguities. A soft exhale of grace.

Thank you sweet Creator God, for moonlit prayers.

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Yogi’s prayer

I have not been breathing enough lately. I don’t mean the processing of oxygen necessary for survival – obviously I’ve been getting that done. But life as a whole has felt mostly like “getting it done” and I haven’t been pausing for the deep, centering breath I need. I’ve been too busy just trying to check items off the to-do list at a pace to match all the items being added on.

Today I finally took a breath – I spent 75 minutes breathing in fact. That is the bliss of Tuesday afternoon community yoga class. It has been three weeks, and oh how I have missed it. In that precious time there is no ringing phone, or whining child voices, or urgent e-mails popping up on my computer screen. No one is presenting me with needs that I must meet. Instead, I am told to breath…just breath…through all the movement and poses…to first and always breath.

As I breathed for those golden moments away from life, I realized in a new way what a miracle it is for every moment of our lives to exist within the pendulum swing of breathing. Whatever imbalance we find in the haste or waste there is always this ultimate ebb and flow, in and out.

Yoga class is over now and its power is not so profound that it can magically alter the balance of my life. But I don’t want to forget the balance that flows through my lungs moment by moment. And I don’t want to fail to offer gratitude for this breath.

And so, my Yogi’s Prayer

Thank you for this breath that rocks my day
Inside the cradle of sustaining life

And how this sweet inhale, my body fills,
My soul as well, though mostly unaware.

How exhale gives release to toxic air,
And thoughts may follow if I’ll wield that knife.

Now, in this moment may I hold that peace,
And live inside a thankfulness for air.


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Wedding prayer

Tonight I had the amazing honor of officiating my baby sister’s wedding. There are not adequate words to describe how privileged I feel to have been included in this life-changing moment for this woman whom I love and respect so much, and the man who has turned a light on inside her to let the world see how amazing she is. It was an experience that I will always treasure.

I suppose it is as a memorialization of this precious jewel-moment in time that I share the benediction I prayed over them immediately before pronouncing them married.

With these vows and these rings you have taken the first steps in the celebration dance that will take the rest of your lives to complete. For all the steps that will come after, this is my prayer for you….

That you will hold each other tight enough and lose enough to dance with both security and freedom…

That when the noises of life fill your ears your hearts will keep beating to the rhythm of your dance…

That when your feet stumble, as they sometimes will, you will lean into each other for balance…

And that the beauty of your partnership will be reflected back for you to see in the eyes of those of us who get to watch you dance.

Let it be so. Amen.
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Be With: Day 29 of the April Poetry Challenge

No introduction today. Sometimes the soul can only speak in poetry.


 

 

Be With

 

“I just want to be with you.”

my child’s plea

so sweet,

so simple.

a stutter trying to interrupt the fast-revolving wheel

my spinning presence

in no moment standing still.

It feels unnatural to stop

with no objective

no self-validating task.

to only be

be with.

And later, open journal in my lap,

I grope for prayer,

for words to wake a passion in my soul,

to feel connection to a God I’ve walked with for so long

but feels tonight so far away.

Then, as my pen spills ink across a page

of spinning words, I feel an urge

a child’s longing

simple words that spell themselves

into my prayer.

I just want to be with you for a while

be with.

An image that my daughter loves

presents itself to eyes closed more in weariness than prayer.

The sister who sat at her master’s feet*

eschewing spinning,

whirling,

soul-consuming tasks

to sit and learn.

“She chose the better part.”

Rebuke refused, and welcome given her instead,

the disciple who knew how to be

be with.

I want to be that eager girl

whose eagerness leads not to movement, but to peace

to patient sitting,

waiting,

listening,

knowing I will

find all that I seek

and even more

if I can simply learn to be

be with.

 

* The sisters referenced are Mary and Martha, whose story is told in Luke 10:38-42.


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Prayer on the Wind: Day 24 of the April Poetry Challenge

Yesterday I learned about a new form of poetry: Tanka. Tanka is like the big sister of Haiku, a little bigger and maybe a bit more grown-up. Although I understand the syllable count is not a strict requirement, the Tanka adds two lines (each of 7-ish syllables) to the 5-7-5 structure of the Haiku. While offering more freedom, Tanka is also more focused – presenting an image from the natural world and then expressing emotional meaning through that image.

I read that description and immediately knew I wanted to try it. Thankfully the day’s weather offered a perfect manifestation of the natural world to inspire me. The picture window off my dining room presented the picture of a warm New Jersey spring, but the wind that wrapped around my legs and tossed my hair the moment I stepped outside felt more like a mistral – the cold, strong gusts that tug at the Mediterranean coasts during this seasonal transition.

It was disappointing. The Winter that greeted our return to New Jersey has been so cold and long and – frankly – unwelcoming, that I am longing for Spring to really and truly arrive and tell me that this is where I belong. I don’t want to be blown back across the Atlantic when I am trying so hard to build my life here.

But then a memory of another Mediterranean wind blew into my mind and stopped my grumbling. It was the Summer wind that enchanted my daughter and I on the Greek island of Tinos and inspired one of my first ever blog posts. (That post is still one of my favorite things I have ever written – click here if you are curious). Sometimes the power of the wind cannot be measured in physical force.


 

Prayer on the Wind

 

The wind blows today

harder than I want, but then

I remember when

island wind blew through her hair

and taught my soul a prayer.


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The Smell of Isolation: Day 16 of the April Poetry Challenge

I caught a random segment of NPR this morning while I was driving to a meeting. The reporter was interviewing the author of a new book of “tips and etiquette” for getting around New York City. It was an entertaining interchange that was mostly fluff, but one throw-away comment struck a nerve with me.

Beware the empty train car – there’s a reason it’s empty.

Having recently resided in a major metropolitan city for nearly three years, and having travelled regularly on public transportation, I immediately knew what that comment was about. And it made me uncomfortable.

I was instantly transported back to a half-empty tram car in Milan — it was the back half that was empty. It was an experience that occurred at least six months ago, but it is still hanging in the back of my mind, like a musty old overcoat that was put away before it had the chance to air out from the damp walk through clinging, rain-soaked, autumn undergrowth. There’s an off-putting smell that demands attention… much like the empty train car.


 

The Smell of Isolation

 

The odor was not what registered first,

squeezing onto the crowded tram,

the crush of strangers’ bodies and voices,

eyes darting for a vacant seat,

a corner free of elbows and oversized bags,

where my little ones could safely sit.

The vacant row is what I noticed,

the wide open sanctuary at the back of the car.

Only one stranger

quiet,

legs spread wide,

eyes closed in his haven of space.

The crowd pushed back,

toward me,

or away from him,

but I pushed forward,

toward the long empty row

little ones in tow.

Not until we are seated.

Not until then did I recognize

the heavy scent of unwashed skin,

the wave of oder the pushes out

pushes against the crowd.

Insisting on an indecent distance.

 

I swallow hard

against the cloying taste hanging in the air;

and against my own reactions of disgust.

He is God’s child too.

repeating the words,

like a mantra, a prayer

to my closed eyelids.

They have shut

almost involuntarily

shut out the image of that pregnant cocoon of space.

 

I force them open,

but they still turn away.

Instead they scan the faces

of those pushed to form the surface –

the human portion of that wall –

all curling lips and furtive glances.

I do not want to join them.

the smell pushes on my nostrils too,

causes them to flare, to flinch.

But I do not want to join that group,

do not want my lips to curl in mirroring disdain,

do not want my body to lean away.

But I am leaning.

not away, precisely.

I lean into the space between

a human shield for little noses, little eyes.

It makes no sense.

My body cannot block the smell,

and curious eyes will seek to find

any image they notice me conceal.

But still I lean,

and leaning in my own eyes notice something… comforting?

They. are. oblivious.

Can it be their little noses have not learned disdain for human smells?

Or is it

Please, God, let it be

they have not learned to judge their fellow human beings

by such corporeal matters

as personal hygiene.

 

I do not know the reason,

but I pray fervently that the fruit of knowledge

with not come crashing into their little Eden

on that train.

And while they squirm and giggle in their luxury of space,

I spend the ride tied up in knots

that have nothing to do with the nausea that assaults me

with each inhalation.

Five stops. I count them:

Disgust.

Anxiety.

Pity.

Fear.

Shame.

I ride in a prison of empty space and shackling emotions.

 

But.

There he sits,

eyes closed,

legs spread,

arms folded across his barrel chest,

forbidding all who would approach.

A king upon his solitary throne.

 

Perhaps he has made his peace,

refused the shame,

of the smell of isolation.

 


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Rocky Soil (Rocky Soul): Day 12 of the April Poetry Challenge

I have to start by explaining that I am NOT a gardener. I am so much not a gardener that I would advise you to give me responsibility for any plants that you want killed. No need to tell me about the goal – they will end up dead even if I am trying to keep them alive. I have killed… bamboo. I bet you didn’t know that was possible, did you?

That being said, our return to our US house has presented a substantial gardening challenge. Our tenant of nearly three years did absolutely NOTHING with our planter beds, which had the predictable result of weeds that are taller than I am (and I am on the more statuesque side of the feminine height chart). Thus was born the anomaly of a gardening task ideally suited for me: unwanted plant removal.

Given my aforementioned skill at botanicide, this should have been easy. Unfortunately even weed killers need a basic appreciation for different soil types. The soil in the bed that staged yesterday’s effort at weed-wrangling was very rocky. As in, hundreds of little root-grabbers hiding in the dirt, repelling the invasion of the shovel blade, and making weed removal an exercise in… patience.

OK, there were a few intervals of intense frustration and there might have been an expletive or two, but mostly my several hours of work to clear less than two square feet of ground was an opportunity for contemplation as well as physical labor. As I kneeled in the dirt I gained a new appreciation for the metaphor of seed and soil, and also a new take on a very old parable.


 

Rocky Soil (Rocky Soul)

 

In the parable Jesus calls them troubles –

the rocky trials that block the roots of faith.

But rocky soil can pose another problem;

for hidden stones can block the digging spade.

 

This gardener seeks release for diving roots

of weeds that mar the garden of her soul,

but bending back, frustrated in its efforts,

despairs of the clear ground that is its goal.

 

These life-bound rocks can take the form of troubles,

but also of distractions, or of fears,

that make the steady work of transformation

much harder than the will to change appears.

 

I struggle with the under-surface tangle

of failings that are twisted round the stones

of habit, or of “innocent” addictions

that hold in place the traits that I bemoan.

 

The only cure is intimate persistence

no digging from above at shovel’s length.

Such rocks must be removed by digging fingers.

What’s needed is attention more than strength.

 

What’s needed is to kneel in my life’s soil,

– a penitent position, but not weak –

for prayer is a good labor for the gardener

with hope to grow the garden that I seek.