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

work, in progress

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They've torn down the old apple trees and the thicket of blackberries along the trail.  In their place are sections of chain link fence held together with orange construction tape.  Our town is growing.  The airport needs a new access road.  Warehouses will go up, businesses will move in; more houses will need to be built.

So much of life feels like it is going the way of the fields and the apple trees right now.   The planet is at the mercy of unchecked prosperity; culture is trying desperately to keep up with technology and rapid change; our bodies are reeling under the weight of industrial pollutants and foods.  Personally, we are facing the reality of a truly empty nest, trying to imagine what marriage, what life itself, will look like in a pared down environment.  Some days I feel like my hands are clutching sand.

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"My work is loving the world," Mary Oliver wrote. When we first moved here we made ourselves promise to notice the landscape.  To really see it before progress changed it.  We set out to appreciate the open fields and hedgerows, the stands of trees along the rambling creek, the stillness of all that open space.  I know the curves and hollows of our trail by foot because we've walked it nearly every day for years - in the freezing cold, the rain, the fog, the heat.  We've even walked it in the dark with only the light of the full moon.  Day by day it has become our own.  Not in the sense of physical ownership, but through familiarity, and understanding.

The changes are hard to take.  I was angry after the loss of the thicket and the trees, the wide fields. And there's a part of me that's angry that I can't keep my children near me forever.  It is natural in us to feel jealous, possessive, of what is beautiful and good.

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There's a book I've been reading slowly, about the first Oregonians.  The ones who walked this land before my ancestors arrived to cut down the trees and make farms, dam the rivers, cut in roads, build power plants and fast food restaurants, kill the wolves and over fish the salmon.  The piece of land that our little town inhabits used to be an annual meeting place for the Northwest Tribes.  I think of them lately, how it was to watch others encroach and change, to watch the things they loved being stolen and - to their minds, at least - ruined.  How do you find the grace to live in the middle of such a painful dismantling and not give up hope?  I don't think they knew; there is no answer in the book I'm reading.  There is no sure answer in my heart.

I keep going back to Mary Oliver:"Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

This is important, I think, this matching of work with standing still, with astonishment (and in her first line, with love.)  Lack of these things seems to be at the root of so many of our problems today.  How can you preserve what you are too busy to see?  What you do not value, let alone love?  To train ourselves to focused wonder, to unembarrassed cherishing, to standing still and seeing, and to consider such things our life's work.  Maybe that's a way forward, even if it's not a solution to the loss.

Before the bulldozers came this fall I watched a red-tailed hawk pirouette over these now broken fields.  She wasn't hunting, she was playing.  I stood and watched her for a long time.  She dove and swooped, bolted upwards and then floated down with her wings wide-spread to skim across the surface of the tall grass. Over and over again she danced, drinking in the goodness of the sun, the air, those shimmering fields.  I came home and recorded it in my journal, the abandonment, the sheer joy of it.  The words are still there now, and as soon as I read them they conjure for me again the beauty of that morning.   The bulldozers have taken the field, but the hawk and her dance, the joy, are my own.  Today when I passed by the same spot, I searched the sky for her but she wasn't there.  The field was full of tire tracks and churned mud, the footprints of progress.  But along the edge, where the fences wobbled, was a bright stand of tansy and the red-brown tendrils of the blackberry vines that are never deterred for long.  I smiled to welcome them back, to encourage them to find the gaps, to stake a foothold in our changed and changing world.

advent, the tender season

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Gertrud Mueller Nelson says that Advent comes to us when "Nature seems asleep. The season is dark, and all that is becoming is hidden from our sight."  Much of the church year has a martial, triumphant feel, but Advent, I think,  is a woman's season - deeply quiet, patient, and tender - and that is probably why it draws me so.  It is a time of waiting, nurturing, and anticipating, more than celebrating and doing; the antithesis, almost, of the cultural Christmas season.

In order to enter into this contemplative time (which for us begins on December 2nd) it helps me to work backward mentally from Christmas and imagine how I want the arc of the season to go.  Like many people, I grew up celebrating Christmas as a stressful, exhausting month of spending that culminates in one bloated and excessive day.  When I began to understand the cycle of the church year and how it was designed to focus the heart and mind, that pattern became very dissatisfying.  But because the pattern is so culturally ingrained and difficult to change, we found we had to opt almost completely out of parts of it in order to regain our perspective.  (We are still in the process of shedding old expectations and habits, so what I share here is just a snapshot of our process, not an answer for everyone.)

Except for the young children, we do not give many gifts at Christmas.  Each year is a little different, but for the most part, we have found this area to be the hardest to change and to maintain any kind of balance.  Buying a gift for one person inevitably leads to buying for a second, then the worry about whether the gifts are equally valuable, and will someone else's feelings be hurt or will that person feel slighted and if we're buying this for one person shouldn't we also buy it for that other one and oh no! I forgot your Aunt Martha!  It's relentless.  So we began to opt out from all of it.  Some years, we pool our money and rent a beach house as a family.  Some years we just spend the day together.  But until we feel free of the consumer pressure and hysteria of it all, we will not add gifts back into our Christmas celebrations.

As you can probably imagine, once you remove most of the pressure of gift-shopping/buying/wrapping/presenting you have released a lot of time, money, and energy and it's easier to consider a month of simple, contemplative practices.

Our Advent was a little different when we had children at home.  We lit candles each night and read prayers and scriptures; we also unwrapped and read a different Christmas book each night; we kept a Jesse Tree and hung ornaments on it; we moved Mary and her donkey around a wooden wreath.  (Kortney outlines a really similar practice in her beautiful (free!) e-book. It has many more resources. I highly recommend it!)  Our children LOVED this time and it has been a little sad to move on from it, but that is the reality of life.  These days our Advent-keeping is much simpler.  I purchased four candle holders from Goodwill and some plain beeswax candles and I will make a little wreath with greens and succulents.  We'll light the week's candles and pray from The Divine Hours each night, maybe read from  Child In Winter.  Our church is holding weekly contemplative services on Wednesdays, so we'll go to some of those as well.  For me, Advent is a time when I reconnect with the idea of goodness and hope waiting to be born into the world, of the sacrificial love that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all represent.  What am I bearing into this aching world?  In what ways am I loving outside myself?  Am I sharing God's love with others?  Are we as a family reflecting light and hope?   In what ways do I need God to heal and rebirth me?

In the still of Advent, the questions of the soul can begin to be answered.

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It's not all contemplation though, we do celebrate a few days during the Advent season:  mainly St. Nicholas' Day, St. Lucy's Day and the Solstice.

St. Nicholas Day is December 6th and he is, of course, the inspiration for most of the Christmas mythology we have now.  He's a joyful, pure-hearted saint and we love taking time to remember him.  For years now, I have used this day to give books to my family.  I love, love, love to give books and I spend a lot of time thinking through the year what I'd like to share with each family member.  This is a tradition unique to our family, but one I hold very dear.  In addition, we are having a little party for friends this year.  In keeping with the St Nicholas traditions, we'll collect socks for the homeless and do a fun sock exchange and I ordered fair trade chocolate coins to hand out.

St. Lucy's Day (Santa Lucia) is December 13th.  This was an especially fun day to celebrate when our daughter was young.  Traditionally, the oldest daughter gets up early and makes saffron buns and coffee for the family and serves them while wearing a candle wreath on her head.  We never managed a candle wreath, but we will still do the saffron buns and coffee, of course!

Solstice is the longest night of the year and the beginning of winter and we typically observe it very simply by keeping the lights off and only using candles, accepting the darkness of the winter and the gradual return of the light.

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Christmas itself is a full twelve days and there is plenty to celebrate there too,  (St John's day gets mulled wine!  Yay!) so I'll write more about Christmas as it nears.  It can be difficult with everyone else around decorating their hearts out, but we do wait until as close to Christmas Eve as possible to get our tree and decorate it.  I can't tell you how much I love waiting.  It makes the anticipation of Christmas day so much more exciting when all these little events slowly unfold each in their own time.  We'll bring out the creche around the same time as the tree, and start to slowly fill it with the various figures.  First Mary and Joseph, a few animals, then on Christmas Eve the angels and the star, the shepherds and their flock.  The wise men have to wait for January 6th - Epiphany! - but they are on their way too and sometimes they show up on a bookshelf or in another room, making their way to God in their own time and on their own path.

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There are so many resources online to help you understand Advent and Christmas, but I hope this gives you an idea of what it can be like.  My main encouragement is to slow everything down and strip it back to something that feels life-giving and hopeful for your family - that's the whole point of this season anyway.  Please feel free to ask any questions!

Much love to you,

tonia

mentors: Tasha Tudor

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It’s been hot here lately.  Every day I watch brave floral optimism blossom then shrivel with the arc of the sun.  At night, we drag out the hoses and give our flower beds courage to face the next day. I have dreams of a Tasha Tudor-style garden, but it is early stages yet.  I baby along a single poppy, four or five zinnias, a handful of sweet peas, short and unfragrant.  In the books I have of Tasha’s garden, everything is lush and cool and lovely and Tasha is never flustered, never sweating through her improbable dresses trying to unkink a length of pale green rubber hose, never standing over empty beds wondering where the seeds went or why those plants all died so quickly.  It doesn’t discourage me.  I pour over her books anyway.  Over the years, I've come to welcome her as a mentor.

Lately, with so much of my life shifting, I've been thinking about these teachers we come across, the ones who unknowingly shape us into the people we are becoming.  Tasha comes to mind first because she was a gifted commercial artist and illustrator, but she proudly defended her life as a homemaker:

“Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it?”

So often I find myself torn between vocations, but Tasha didn’t seem burdened by that dichotomy at all.  As beloved as her art became, she didn’t see herself lessened by her commitment to homemaking;  she admitted she illustrated so she could afford flower bulbs and corgis and her 1850’s-homage house.  I find it a pleasure to keep a tidy house, to keep the cookie jar stocked, to crochet a blanket or sew a pair of pants, to have a meal ready when others come home.  Whenever I’ve ignored these things for the sake of more “important” work, I feel untrue to myself.  But Tasha reminds me it is possible to go this way, to craft a life that holds both my work as a writer and my work as a homemaker in equal value.

“I’m perfectly content,” she says. “I have no other desires than to live right here with my dogs and my goats and my birds. I think I’ve done a good job of life, but I have no message to give anyone. If I do have a philosophy, it is one best expressed by Henry David Thoreau: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” That is my credo. It is absolutely true. It is my whole life summed up.”

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I can't imagine Tasha rushing through her life, wringing her hands over her busyness (like nearly everyone I meet these days).  I imagine her purposeful and committed, showing up each day for the narrow band of things she wanted her life to encompass: her garden, her family, her books and art.  There's no sense of drama about Tasha.  She wasn't trying to save the world, to fix every injustice.  She created.  She nurtured.  She lived.  And so many of us have found her a refuge, a point of light.  If for no other reason, she's a worthy mentor because she shows us that we change each other by being unapologetically true to who we are as individuals.

So inspiring, isn't she?

I'll write more about other mentors later, but I'd love to hear about any you have.