I spent last week visiting my children down south.  We stayed in my daughter’s apartment, a cute little space edged along a busy highway.  After awhile, you could close your eyes and imagine the ocean in the constant hum of tires on asphalt, a trick I remembered from our years in the city.  My daughter has created her own space, but I got to see the outlines of twenty years of my mothering traced into her rhythms: the tea cupboard with its tins and boxes, books in the kitchen, flowers on the table, the little note cards that said: Monday – meal planning and laundry; Tuesday - kitchen.  We got up every day and walked to the little coffee shop downtown, staked a claim on a corner table, ordered vegan lunches and hemp lattes.  There were newspapers on all the tables: the governor has disgraced himself, the dry winter means less bird habitat, hate is waging war under the cloak of religion.  I had been reading a book on the Korean War; the politicians and generals had hidden agendas bolstered by extraordinary ego and the young men had orders, but no winter uniforms and no idea what was waiting for them.  How many more times, I wondered, will the egos and agendas be able to use that move?  A thousand, thousand more times, the newspaper said flatly. 

I remembered a poet who said when the Pentagon talked of war, he crossed his fork and spoon and bowed his head across his plate – “to ward off complicity.”   Somewhere across the world, he imagined, there were other citizens bowing, all of them making vows “never to kill and call it fate.”

Who teaches people to do this, I wondered.  Certainly not the church I knew.  My church had always called that cowardice, foolishness.  I cannot think of this without an ache in my chest.  

One of my sons had told me suddenly a few days before that he wants to be a Quaker.  “Because they practice peace,” he said quietly when I asked him why.  Another son, one whom I raised but barely understand, said if he had a gun he’d go over there and kill them all, those sons of b*****s.  I sat at the table for a long time after that, heavy with the knowledge of which one of them will find approval.  

Those days, when we walked home from the coffee shop, the sky was bright blue.  Every so often, a military jet would bust through the clouds above us.  You felt it in your chest first, then you looked up and saw the dark triangle moving away from you fast, so fast.  I followed their trails through the sky and wondered if they knew where they were headed, wondered what hidden agenda we were all playing along to this time, wondered if anyone else recognized the sound of the same old rhythms the world’s been practicing since the beginning.  I thought again of the poet, dead now, his words speaking to me across the years, warning me of complicity, his message so much slower than the potential that just streaked across the sky.  I crossed my chest with my arms, felt my own vow steady and alive within me. Back at the apartment we pushed open the windows to let in air.  Outside the constant hum of traffic rose and fell like ocean waves.

making a claim


You know that feeling when you suddenly encounter something that feels like home?  I've been feeling that way as I read through Esther de Waal's book on Celtic Christianity.  The Celts, she says, were a people "living close to the earth, close to stone and water, and their religious worship was shaped by their awareness of these elemental forces....They were a warrior people, a people whose myths and legends told them of heroes and heroic exploits.   Above all, they were a people of the imagination, whose...skill with words flowered in poetry and storytelling."  Is it okay, I wonder, to lay claim to people who are probably not your ancestors, but are certainly your spiritual kin?  I am in love with the way their lives were a continual song of prayer, from morning through the night.  They had prayers for everything from stoking the fire to milking the cow to making the bed to sailing their boats.  Wonderful.  

"Bless, O God, my little cow,

Bless, O God, my desire;

Bless Thou my partnership

And the milking of my hands, O God.

Bless, O God, each teat, 

Bless, O God, each finger;

Bless Thou each drop

That goes into my pitcher, O God."

It's been a wonderful read, and it's excited my faith in a way few things have over the last months.  

The last two weeks at home have been so restful.  I find my thoughts turning more to prayer throughout the day, instead of turning to the old quick fix of the click and escape.  Standing at the kitchen counter one day last week, I found myself suddenly realizing that this whole thing might be part of God's plan and not so much my own idea.  Today's reading hit me:

"Prayer was not separate from poetry and from song.  These were people who were singing all the time, from the start of the day until its end.   Prayers were keened or crooned or sung under the breath - they were not said silently.  This would have an incalculable effect on children, who from the start of their lives must have been aware of parents praying, would watch and hear prayer as a natural part of every day life....When Carmichael tells us, almost in passing, that this ended as people became more talkative, he is saying something the significance of which we should not miss."

Do you feel, as I do, that something important is being lost in our world?  I'm just listening, still exploring.  These are the little snippets that come to me day by day.

much love to you.




the majesty of liturgical action

"The offering of the body in prayer is at the heart of life and includes everything in our daily life, so that it radiates out into the world we live in, giving the majesty of liturgical action to our work and leisure, our eating and sleeping and speaking and moving; giving to our simplest act the redeeming power of the offering of Christ's Body, and making it both sacrifice to God and communion with humanity.

We shall carry this idea into the world, into the kitchen and the office, making life a liturgy, so that through it those prayers that Christ wishes to be made unceasingly will be made, regardless of our mood, and in tranquility."

~ Caryll Houselander, A Child In Winter

what comes next

Up the long, winding road that runs the south side of town, past the clear-cut and through the shadowed tunnel of woods still waiting their turn with the loggers, we come to a stop at a well-marked intersection.  To the right, "Christmas HappyLand" with its bonfire and free hot cocoa and the smiling young men who drive the hay trucks; to the left, a simple white tree-shaped sign:  "Nobles 4 sale."       We go left.  

We pull into a wide driveway.  There is one other car, and an older couple standing beside, who are laughing and talking with the owner about how crazy they are to wait until this late date to get a tree.  "At least we're not alone!" the woman cackles and I smile at her.  I don't tell her we intentionally wait this long, wanting to let Advent take root in us, wanting the splendor of Christmas to be fresh when it finally arrives.  The owner comes towards us and shakes our hands.  "You're the third customers today!" he says happily and tells us that this was his goal for the day: just three customers.  The nobles are silently holding watch on a flat acre that spreads out in front of us.  At their edges, a tower of forest, not for the taking.  We pick out a saw and wander down a path.  The fog is playing hide and seek among the rows, raindrops pearl along dark green branches.  We are looking for something narrow, not too sparse; full, but not too round.  I hear a flutter of small birds behind me,  I turn to look but they are gone.

All morning long we have been talking about simplicity, about a quality we have been chasing for years that still eludes us.  I see my husband coming towards me down one row of trees.  The last five years have been hard on him, caring for a business during a recession. It is hard to remember when hours weren't long and burdens heavy.  When he gets near enough, I say, "This is the feeling.  This is what I'm looking for."   He nods and tells me he thinks he's found it, the tree.  A tiny click sounds beside me and I see the quick-flit shadow of a bird disappear deep into branches.  

We find the tree and saw it down, carry it to the gravel drive and load it into the truck, hand over our 50 bucks and a promise to tell friends about this place, shake hands with the owner once again.   The road home is curved and narrow and seems longer than the road up, and we turn Mariah Carey up loud when she comes on the radio because against all odds we still love that song and we always sing along with her until we are hoarse.   When she is done, I turn off the radio and we watch out windows as the rain begins to tiptoe down.  

"There was only one choice there," I say suddenly.  The guys are talking about setting up the Christmas train and no one hears me.  By the time we reach the highway again,  I know.

At home we put up the tree and work out details.  He couldn't bring work home, he'd have to work at the office longer sometimes, he says.

 "I know, but that will make you more focused, and when you come home..."  I wave my hand towards the tree, trying to find words to recapture the feeling of those silent rows, the fog, the drops of water that kissed our sleeves as we passed.  

"What about the blog and your writing and all that?"  he asks and I tell him that I don't need the internet for writing, but the library has wifi connection, and the coffee shop, and we will go out a couple times a week and do everything we need to do online.  

"I'll be more focused, too," I say and I know it is true.  Everytime I turn on a computer at home, I lose at least an hour.  

We talk about possibilities.  He could take the router to work with him, we could set timers on it, we could lock our computers in a drawer.  

"We've tried that," I say.  He reminds me that because we live in a rural area, no internet means no cell phones at home.  I have to think about that for a long while.  No texting my kids off and on during the day.  I waver, then recover.

I want something, I tell him, that I can't seem to catch.  I don't have the discipline, the willpower.  Every one of my best laid plans fails.  "What made it special out there," I say, pointing to the tree again, "was the simplicity of it.   There was nothing to decide, no questions, nothing to reason or justify or choose between except which of the trees we liked best."  I tell him how tired I am of wrestling with the ring in my pocket.  Another section from the book has captured me and I ask if I can read it to him.

"Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea.  That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ' a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or storytelling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.' Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness."

He understands what I'm saying.  "And you think having a house without internet connection will help you get this?"  

I tell him how I am enticed by ideas and images and possibilities and the internet is a never ending portal to all of that.  "I can't rest," I say.  "I'm always wondering what someone is saying or what someone is thinking or how a person might do this or that..."  He nods at me.  He knows.  He's lived with my spinning, nonstop brain for twenty-three years.  

It can't be decided in a day, though there's something leaping in my chest, begging me not to be too rational, not to think too long about it.  I can feel myself closing in on the whisp of something long desired and I am afraid the ring will betray me now.  We agree to a trial period.  A month, to see if he can make it work with his job, to see if we can really stand the quiet and the limitations.  We agree to start on Christmas, with its twelve days of celebration of the coming of Peace and Light.  A month, and then we evaluate.  The rest of the weekend we find ourselves saying, "Oh, we won't be able to do this anymore!" or "You'd have to drive into town to do that!"  But I am not nervous.  I know we will just have to find new rhythms.  

The tree stands in the living room, shimmering softly.  Just before the sun goes down on solstice, we climb in the truck and head up the hill, a wild ride on a gravel road through winter pot holes and mud.  The sky is starting to darken and I begin to be afraid we'll be too late, but we make another hard turn and then the road opens up and we are at the top.   There is no sunset, the sky is its usual December overcast and the day ends by fading quietly into ever darkening shades of grey.  "This is the feeling," I say to myself and I look out over thousands of treetops all the way to the glittering lights of the city, miles away, and I know I want this, no matter how hard, no matter how complicated, or how it makes other people question.  We are shivered with cold and we get back into the truck so we can head downhill before the night arrives, too black for navigating potholes.  

When we pull into the driveway minutes later, there is the tree in the window, silently holding watch.  Hope rises in me.  I am full of grey sky and night dawn, fog and raindrop, the tower of forest and lonely hilltops, the tiniest flit of bird disappearing into dark green branches.


~ Notes:


  • This article was an epiphany for me last week. 
  • I am keeping all my online spaces.  I will probably update my Instagram account most often, so if you'd like to visit me there, you are welcome!
  • It's always been a challenge for me to properly answer comments, but I suspect it will be more difficult now that my online time will be so limited.  As always, please know that I read every comment and I appreciate them so much, even if I can't respond.    
  • If you email - which you are welcome to do! (toniaDOTsparrowATgmailDOTcom) - I will be checking emails fairly frequently on my phone when I go to town,  but I will probably be slower to respond to them now.  
  • Disclaimer:  I think the Internet is brilliant and I am thankful for all the ways we use it.  This is about my own pursuit of simplicity, integrity and using my time to the best of my ability.  I hope you will feel encouraged to make choices that are right for your own situation, that bring you closer to the desires of your own heart and that you never feel pressured to do or be something that isn't right for you.  For those of you who don't struggle with internet addiction/overuse (for that is what it is, if I'm brutally honest) I hope you will just continue on in your freedom and be at peace!

There will be much more to say on this later, I think, as the weeks go by.  I'll be here.

And merry, merry Christmas to all of you, with so much love.


synchronicity: the ring in my pocket and simplicity

Quite by accident, I began reading Pen Wilcock's marvelous book on simplicity, The Celebration of Simplicity: the Joy of Living Lightly alongside Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring.  

Oh, wonderful synchronicity.   

I read of Bilbo's determination to rid himself of the one ring.  He good naturedly offers to leave it for Frodo.  Put it in this envelope.  Put it on the mantle.  Oh wait, here it is in my pocket again.  Here it is still in my hand.  At one moment, when Gandalf points out what is happening, 

Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes.  His kindly face grew hard.  'Why not?' he cried.  'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things?  It is my own.  I found it.  It came to me.'

'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf.  'But there's no need to get angry.'

'If I am it is your fault,' said Bilbo. 'It is mine, I tell you.  My own.  My precious.  Yes, my precious.'

The same day I read Pen Wilcock's thoughts:

"Many people say that simplicity is a personal choice (it is, but not in the sense that they mean it - optional); some are called to it, others are not.  Soothingly, reasonably, as to a wilful child...they explain to me that as long as a person has simplicity on the inside, in the heart, that's what matters - then it's okay to embrace all the trappings of worldliness, because what God looks on is the heart."

I cringe at the familiarity.  Journal pages of amiable goals, happy thoughts (on the inside) of a simple, generous life, pat on the back for being enlightened, smile on my face... Put it on the mantle, give it to Frodo, of course, of course...until you notice my other hand clutching the "precious."  

Be simple! my heart tells me, and then I scroll through pinterest for hours and tell myself my "simple" life will include those boots and that kitchen.  Be at peace! my heart cries, and then I page through Facebook and hold arguments in my head for hours with people I barely know and now can't bring myself to like.  Be still! my heart says and then I click link after link, watch this show and that, and the silent hours are gone again in a flash.  I see Bilbo there, smiling, so confidently, lying to himself.

Wilcock goes on:

 "Unequivocally I refute this.  They mean well, but their advice is a signpost that points in the wrong direction.  We will make no headway unless we make simplicity our daily bread - the physical substance from which we feed our everyday life.  [...] Christian simplicity means living quietly, in humble, ordinary houses, with as few possessions as we can manage - and those that we have being ordinary, simple things, not status symbols or expensive, luxury items.  It means making choices that are socially and environmentally sustainable; sharing by choice the possibilities available to the poorer people in our society....Christian simplicity is mindful that our lives are called to be holy unto the Lord, keeping a wise watch on the gateways of our senses, for we are living temples of the Holy Spirit of God, expected by our Master to choose purity and turn away from inviting or contemplating anything that tends to corrupt us and make us cynical, lascivious or decadent."

I see it clearly one morning, how simplicity can't be found by those who are still chasing the ring of power.  There's no middle place where we get it all - the trappings, the comforts, the pleasures, the status - and the simplicity of Christ with his generosity and wisdom and grace.  I know this.  I know this!  and yet the ring is still in my pocket.  

Still, I have hope:

"Bilbo took out the envelope, but just as he was about to set it by the clock, his hand jerked back, and the packet fell on the floor.  Before he could pick it up, the wizard stooped and seized it and set it in its place.  A spasm of anger passed swiftly over the hobbit's face again.  Suddenly it gave way to a look of relief and a laugh.  

'Well, that's that,' he said. 'Now I'm off!'

And now, I'm off. 

2015, I've got plans for you.

(more later!)

baptism of silence

Once upon a time people recovered from illness in long, slow chunks of bed-ridden time.  That was before we were so busy that we couldn’t be inconvenienced by our bodies.  A time before we invented pills to mask symptoms and hide the battle waged by our hard-working immune systems. 

I thought about this a lot last week, laid up for days with a mystery illness.  I have the luxury of resting; I can conduct my work from the couch if need be.  The laundry might suffer, but homeschooling and writing are as easily accomplished in the living room as at a desk.   My husband, who works long hours in a downtown office, would never feel free to take that kind of time; most people I know wouldn’t.  This is the world we’ve made, where a sick body is a nuisance to be subdued and enslaved rather than a friend to be honored and listened to.

A few weeks ago we finally sat down and watched the movie “Lincoln.”  I was completely fascinated by the slowness of the time period.  While war raged in real time, war dispatches were carried one by one across miles on sweaty horseback, or if you were lucky, by telegraph.  Monumental events began – and concluded – before anyone could be informed they existed.  Political intrigues yeasted and bubbled in dark, warm corners of silence.   Communication was slow, cumbersome, and unverifiable.   It was a world where distances mattered; where personal progress was subject to the limitations of physical strength and ingenuity; a world with limits that would frustrate and infuriate us today.

During my illness, my family had to go out of town.  It left me with a day and a half completely to myself.  I don’t think I’ve been entirely alone like that for 20-some years.  I was feeling a little better by then, and inspired by the glimpse into slow-time, I decided I would spend my time in silence.   I read, I napped, I ate when I was hungry, I wrote in my journal, sketched out ideas, watched the shadows changing on the wall.   As the day faded, I lit candles, got more blankets, turned on some quiet music, fell asleep, woke, fell asleep, woke.   The world felt soft, gentled, possible.  When morning came, I rose out of the silence as if I was rising from the Jordan river fresh from baptism, blinked new eyes at this world I’ve been born to inhabit. 

Writing a letter to a friend this week, I told her of the newborn sense I have of standing upright and still in the river’s current.  I wonder how long I can stand here and part the waters before they take me again?  For now, I have turned my energies to banishing the demon called “Urgent.”  He’s a tyrant, that one, always prophesying doom and destruction for anyone who doesn’t respond instantly to his beeping and chiming and ringing.   It’s so easy for him to make us believe his promises.  To make us believe our success, our happiness, our relevancy depend on his summons and his applause.   I shut him up by turning off the computer and putting the phone in a drawer.   The river passes by on either side of me.  

Today, the leaves are drifting off the trees, one long, slow aerial dance at a time.  I’m listening to another voice now whisper to watch and remember, to store away the vision of this slimming branch, this twist of yellow leaf, this cold blue sky.   It tells me all the usual, miraculous things:  that surrender can be a long, beautiful dance; that the earth answers to no summons but God’s own; that the rhythms of time and silence are laid into the fabric of the earth; that I, too, have been woven and shaped as part of those same rhythms.   Suppose, I ask myself, a person decided she was just going to keep standing here, living slow, present, learning the language of body and earth and spirit?  A gust of wind blankets the side of the house, a swirl of yellow and brown lifts from the ground and then settles back down again.  As I watch, five or six more leaves loose their grip on the tree and go.