a franciscan year

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I can't seem to shake off the monastics.  I'm continually drawn to their disciplined rhythms and focused intention in attempting to make an outer life that reflects their inner lives.  A couple of years ago I came across the Third Order Franciscans - an Episcopalian order that commits to live by Franciscan principles in their every day lives.  I love their aims of love and simplicity.  Looking over their Rule (guidelines for committed living) again this last month, I realized it could provide a container, of sorts, for the various threads I want to pursue in this coming year.

The last few years I've been looking for ways to integrate financial discipline with my concern for our (personal) middle-class disconnect - the distance between my pursuit of comfort and my neighbors' daily need, the condition of the planet, the growing class disparity in America, the mental and spiritual plague of consumerism, etc.  I've tried various ways of tackling this, but the Franciscans brought it all together for me:

"Saint Francis...[desired] that all barriers set up by privilege based on wealth should be overcome by love. [...] we avoid luxury and waste, and regard our possessions as being held in trust for God. Personal spending is limited to what is necessary for our health and well-being and that of our dependents. We aim to stay free from all attachment to wealth, keeping ourselves constantly aware of the poverty in the world and its claim on us. We are concerned more for the generosity that gives all, rather than the value of poverty in itself.""Acknowledging that everything belongs to God, we seek to use his gifts wisely and to be good stewards of this fragile earth, never destroying or wasting what God has made. We provide the things necessary for ourselves and our families without demanding luxuries. We seek never to forget the needs of others."

The Rule for the Third Order encompasses several areas other than just finances, but they all braid together to support and enable each other.  I think this is what I've been missing, a cohesive vision that addresses all the various aspects of how we make decisions and what motivates us.  This is a brief outline of the Rule (found here):

The Holy EucharistPenitencePersonal PrayerSelf-DenialRetreatStudySimplicity of LivingWorkObedience

I've written some guidelines for myself that fall into each of these categories (although not always exactly as they are meant for actual members of the Order).  They include praying the Divine Hours 3x daily (as able), periods of silence each day, reducing social media interaction to 1 hour/day (sounds like plenty, but it goes very fast between posting and answering comments, etc.), a no-shopping year, and regular hospitality.   I'm calling it my Franciscan year, and while I know it will be a challenge, I also feel a sense of calling and peace.

"Humility, love, and joy are the three notes which mark the lives of Tertiaries." (Third Order members)

In this context, it does not seem burdensome to keep a routine of prayer or create space for silence or refuse to buy.  It seems like opening a door and entering into the rhythm of the real world, where we work and yearn and make space for each other instead of mindlessly pursuing our own comfort and pleasure.  I'm entering the new year with a lot of peace and assurance.

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Since I know some people will have questions about what our no-shopping year will look like, I'll offer a brief outline of our plan here. Please remember, this is a journey toward integrity, not a competition about resources or stewardship.

2019 No-shopping Year.We will not shop/order/buy anything outside of the following:

  1. Regular household expenses. (I have reduced our food budget slightly but this is a broad category overall and we have talked through what we need and what we can go without.)

  2. Already scheduled home maintenance projects (this includes building a pole barn and some subsequent landscaping.)

  3. Seeds/supplies for a small garden.

  4. Replacing any necessary items that break or are lost.

  5. Gifts for others (reduced budget).

  6. Books necessary for work.

I'm sure there will be exceptions to these guidelines, because that's the way it goes in a large, busy family, but we do have a way to evaluate those needs as they arise.  Mostly it involves talking, waiting, and considering whether it complies with our commitment to simplicity.  I'm so looking forward to using what we have, making do, and learning new ways to meet needs.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. 

I'll leave you with this version of St Francis' famous prayer for peace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ 

christmas, in twelve days

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It's the middle of the third week of Advent and despite my well laid plans, I am as unprepared for Christmas as I've ever been.  This weekend we'll get our tree.  (One advantage to waiting this long is the tree farms usually start discounting their trees; the biggest, most perfect ones are picked over, but we live in a hobbity kind of house anyway and we just want something small and natural looking, so it works in our favor.)  After a month of everyone else's lights and decorations, I'm so looking forward to the arrival of Christmas at our house!Christmas lasts for twelve days, from the 25th of December through Epiphany, on January the 6th.  There are several saint's days in that span and lots of different ways to celebrate, but I promised to share a bit of what we do here.  Honestly, it's nothing dramatic.  So much of the excitement of Christmas is simply the build up that comes through the waiting of Advent.We usually attend a church service on Christmas Eve, then wake up Christmas morning and celebrate in the usual way with gifts (if there are any) and breakfast and spending the day with family.The 26th is St Stephen's Day (or Boxing Day).  "Boxing" refers to an old English custom of masters filling the banks or "boxes" of apprentices with monetary gifts.  It's a day to think of charitable giving.  You could box up some things to donate or open a piggy bank to make a donation.  We'll make sure to play "Good King Wenceslaus" that night and talk over our giving goals for the next year.The 27th is St John the Evangelist's Day.  Tradition says he was served poisoned wine and survived!  We'll make mulled wine that day. (I love St. John's Day!)  You can mull apple cider instead, for nondrinkers and children.

Gluhwein recipe:1 bottle cheap red wine3/4 c water1/2 c honey or sugar2 cinnamon sticks1 orange10 cloves2 star anise (optional)Orange liquer, brandy or rum (optional)Put water in pan to boil. Add honey or sugar until dissolved.  Put the cloves in the orange, slice it into halves, squeeze in the juice and then put the squeezed halves in.  Add cinnamon and anise.  Let simmer for ten minutes or until it begins to thicken a little.  Pour in the wine, heat gently.  DON'T BOIL.  Remove peels, cinnamon and anise.  Serve in mugs with an optional shot of liquor.

The 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  Honestly, by this time, I'm ready to quit observing things for a few days, so I don't plan anything big for this.  Gertrud Mueller Nelson celebrates children in some way on this day and I think it's a good time to bless your children - or children you know - with an actual blessing, or at least by telling them you love them.

A Celtic children's blessing:Grow gently, (name of child),in love of God.We bless you,and prayChrist be near you,now and each hourof your life.

My husband's company closes down for the week between Christmas and New Year, so we'll use this time to rest, hike, visit the ocean, do puzzles, etc.   I also like to finish writing the Christmas cards and send them out and prepare the new calendars and journals for the upcoming year.xmaslanterns2We celebrate New Year's Eve/Day pretty quietly.  We sometimes gather with friends or family, sometimes stay home.  Almost always though, we write out plans and hopes for the next year.January 5th is Twelfth Night.  There are a lot of fun traditions for Twelfth Night parties.  We don't usually invite people over, but we do make a cake and hide a bean inside.  The person who receives the bean in their slice of cake gets to be the King/Queen for the night (if you make a paper crown and find a scepter for them, all the better) and choose when to have more mulled wine, what movie to watch or game to play, etc.  This is also a traditional time to pack up the tree and put away the decorations. (Except for the creche!  The wise men are just arriving to meet the newborn King!)January 6th is Epiphany.  Depending on how you count, technically the 13th day after Christmas, but it's the day when the light of Christ is revealed to the world (the Magi have arrived!)  Some families save their gifts until this day.  Personally, I like to have the Christmas decorations put away the night before so that this day feels light and clean and fresh.   Apparently, I just discovered, in Ireland, this is also called "Women's Christmas" because all the work of celebrating is done and women can get together for high tea (with wine!) I mean...yes! I may just invite some ladies over and celebrate that day!Hope that gives you some ideas for an easy, beautiful Christmas celebration!  I'd love to hear how you will celebrate these twelve days!Merry Christmas, friends!tonia

hara hachi bu

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The old generation Okinawans are among the longest lived people in the world.  They have a lot of tricks about how to accomplish this:  a sense of life-purpose, intimate family/friend connections, a simple diet based on plants, regular gentle exercise such as walking and gardening.  The other thing they practice is hara hachi bu - the idea of eating only until they are 80% full.  I don't know if you could find a concept more foreign to American culture.  We're a clean your plate so you can have dessert kind of people, an unbutton the top button of your jeans kind of people, not an I feel satisfied so I'll quit while I'm ahead kind of people.

I've been thinking about this concept for some time.  Not just about eating, but about consumption in general.  The science behind hara hachi bu is that it takes 20 minutes for the nerve endings in our stomachs to register we are full.  If we eat until we feel full, as most of us do, then we have already overeaten and stretched beyond our natural capacity.  Eventually we will need more food to create the satiated feeling we are looking for. (More food = more weight = poor health.)  It's the same with our money and our time, of course.  The level at which we are satiated rises with each new luxury we indulge in.  I used to be satisfied with grocery store coffee. Enough said.  My need to create tasks and fill my hours increases with my perception of my own importance.  How will I know I am valuable if I'm not complaining about too much to do and responding "Busy!" to every "How are you?"

Hara hachi bu says it is best for us if we take less than what we feel we need.   Our bodies can't tell us what we need in the moment we are consuming, so our minds must be wiser than our bodies.  What if I bought 20% less food at the grocery store?  Would that eliminate the last of the food waste we generate and be closer to what we actually need?  What if I only planned enough tasks for 80% of my day and left 20% for serendipity or naps?  What if we lived on 80% of our disposable income?  Bought only 8 of the 10 books I think I want? Committed to keeping 20% of our calendar free?

Maybe a practice like that would get me closer to the balance my mind and soul are continually seeking.

Do you have a hara hachi bu practice?  Id' love to hear your thoughts. 

becoming available to yourself

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Recently, I pulled out my journal to see if I could remember when I started working on this new novel.  I found the answer back in the July pages.  The months before I'd been wrestling with the balance between what I felt were two distinct callings.  One required availability, the other - writing - required isolation and focus.  I couldn't see how to make both of these callings work, so all through the month of June I am writing out an explanation to myself about what I think is the correct choice: availability.  The writing must not be important in the long run, I say to myself.  It's always about people, it's always about showing up.  In June, there is a sense of relinquishment.  I can remember the feeling of release, a certain peace.  Writing would wait.  Then in July, a succession of unexpected events.  These were small things:  conversations, decisions by friends, a gift from someone close, a paragraph in a book.  These were sudden and illuminating, like matches being struck in dark corners: Oh, I see.  By the end of that month, I had decided that I *must* write, even if it was just 250 words a day.  I would inch my way along both trajectories.  I told other people about my decision, committed myself, made it hard to back out.  I made it to 10,000 words, 15,000, 20,000.  At that point, the landscape began to shift.  Decisions were made apart from me, obligations, relationships sifted, time opened up in a new way.  There were more small things.  Every book I picked up - some I'd bought years before and left on the shelf only to randomly select them again now - was the story of a woman coming into her truth.  Every time I grabbed a magazine, it was a woman telling how she made the hard choice, how she chose her path and stuck with it even when it meant disappointing others.  Friends who all along had been counseling "availability, availability" began to say "it's time for something new."   I began to admit things in the journal I'd never allowed myself to say.  Things I wanted but hadn't given voice to.  In the space of four months everything heaved and buckled, became new ground.

What's interesting to me about all this is in hindsight, I'm not sure if the changes were  inevitable and I was just awakening to them, or if the changes came in response to my decisions.  When I look back, its almost as if this life had been lying in wait for me to choose it.  Each step I've taken has been met with a surge of reassurance, clarity, and confirmation.  But I sense that if I had not taken the steps...if I had stayed on the path I was already on, there would have been reassurance and confirmation there too.  I'm almost certain of it.  That scares me a little, to think I could have just gone on with what I knew and what felt comfortable, that life itself would have risen up and affirmed that choice too.  What might I have missed had I not taken the small messages, the little match flares that were revealing another way?  May Sarton suggests it:

"The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up."

I have felt this stagnation, an underground current pulsing, not allowed to find release.  When I think of so many women I know, I am struck by how their deep thoughtfulness, their tremendous strength and creativity is put to use holding relationships together, managing dysfunctional family members, being the emotional center of their homes or jobs or communities.  I cannot imagine where we'd be without such women, but I am also struck with the inequity of it.  What have we lost in terms of wisdom, art, culture, science, diplomacy, language, and much more by allowing ourselves to be available to everyone but our own selves?

It's something to think about.  Questions to ask ourselves in moments when we can be honest.  Step back, look.  What is pulsing underneath the surface?  What longing hasn't even been allowed the words to describe it?  What would you do if there was no one who needed your daily involvement?  There are seasons, certainly, when these longings and gifts have to take the background, but in my own life, they weren't just in the background, they were in a tight little box labeled "probably never" or "probably too late."  What about yours?  Are they somewhere they can be nurtured and watered even in a dormant season?

"And now we who are writing women and strange monsters

Still search our hearts to find the difficult answers,

Still hope that we may learn to lay our hands

More gently and more subtly on the burning sands." ~ May Sarton

Sending love and courage to all my brave-hearted friends today.

tonia     

overcoming resistance

I went to the gym for the first time in almost thirty years this morning.  I went with my husband, who has been asking me to come with him for almost as long.  It's the kind of thing he thinks will be "fun," and I think will be dreadful.  It wasn't dreadful.  Just as he'd promised, no one paid any attention to me as I learned how to operate the bike and the weight machines, and just as he'd promised, it was kind of fun to be there with him.  It wasn't until I was heading out of the gym and on the way home that I remembered why I'd stopped going to the gym in the first place.  I was 18 years old and terribly self-conscious of my body and my fitness level  - and my semi-regular visits to the facility were drawing attention from an older man.  I can remember him waiting outside, leaning up against the concrete wall with a water bottle in hand, asking me in that slow male drawl how my workout was, telling me with a glance up and down that I was looking pretty good.   It was the late 80's - and it was a man's world.  It never occurred to me to stand up for myself and tell him to go away, or to complain to the gym, or even alter my schedule.  I felt uncomfortable so I quit.  In the Christian subculture I grew up in, that was my role in the world: submit, yield, or get out of the way, and I did.I'm at midlife now and I ditched the ideology of the subculture a long time ago, but the muscle memory is still there.  Someone makes a demand on my time or emotional energy and I instantly assume it's my duty to meet it even when I am mentally certain I should be doing something else.  The limbs twitch with conditioned motion, thoughts race along the grooves of practiced belief, and dopamine arrives to validate the action. In the old days, I called this comfortable, assured feeling "peace."  Conforming provided its own reward - and kept me from growing into anything more.

I'm most vulnerable to this kind of reaction directly after I assert myself and declare my intentions.  I've come to expect that any new burst of personal determination signals not a season of productivity, but a major catastrophe looming in the wings.  As soon as I hit the gym, the creepy old guy shows up in the doorway demanding attention, plucking the strings of my ingrained responses, encouraging me to yield to his demands.

"Resistance," says Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, "obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, spiritually."

she makes it happen

she makes it happen

Learning to recognize Resistance can be complicated - especially when it comes to us wrapped in religion, ideology, and gender-roles.  Some people learn early to recognize and defy it, but for me and many others, it's a lifetime's work.  We get there one revelation, one deliberate, defiant act at a time.

We can claim the truth that we are makers, artists, builders, weavers, nurturers, truth-tellers, poets, and our work matters.

So go to the gym.

Show up for yourself.

Tell the creepy old man at the door to leave you the hell alone and mean it.  (If he sticks around, show up again anyway.  He'll get bored when he realizes he has no power to disturb or distract you. )

You can do this.  We can do this.  We owe it to ourselves - those selves that sat back, that let other people succeed, that fixed all the problems and carried all the burdens, that pushed down feelings and desires, that made dreams smaller so they didn't disturb anyone else.  We owe it to ourselves to grow our dreams and find a way and be faithful to what has always been real and true inside of us.  So let's do it, okay?

Love you, my friends.

tonia