i vote for the andorpersand

Here's a little example of something my editorial colleagues and I find humorous:

What strikes me as salient about these punctuation marks is that quite a few of them would offer signals about intent that would otherwise be missed due to the nature of the writing - presumably text messaging, where things are often written in haste and there isn't much opportunity to craft and nuance your words in a way that conveys your mood (for example, the "I'm not angry" and sarcasm-related punctuation). I wonder if the coming years will see the development of new punctuation (or repurposed punctuation) to meet that need.

Which one is your favorite?


some thoughts on baptism

This school year I've been going through the adult inquirer's class at the church where I've sort of planted myself. Inquiring means I am learning about pertinent topics in Christianity and how we as Christians and as Episcopalians can begin to think about these topics.

Most recently the class talked about baptism. I have never really understood baptism, and whenever I've tried to understand baptism, I get stuck in the "infant baptism doesn't make sense" trap. In short, here's the deal: baptism is a one-time thing (at least for mainline denominations). Once you're baptized, you're baptized. You can't undo it and you can't re-do it, either. The purpose of baptism is to set yourself apart with a public declaration of your acceptance of God, Jesus, the gospel, etc. There's a covenant involved, where you answer questions and make a commitment out loud in front of the congregation (who also makes commitments to you). It's an act of intent, and most people are required to go through some sort of education process beforehand, because it's kind of a big deal.

So because it's kind of a big deal, it's a one-time-only thing, and it's a personal commitment, the question is, why do we baptize babies? They aren't capable of making this commitment and shouldn't we let them choose for themselves? I was generally of this persuasion until this last inquirers class. That's when one of the other parents in my discussion group said something about how meaningful the line in the Episcopal baptismal covenant says "you are marked as a Child of God" (or something like that), and I started to rethink my stance.

It probably goes without saying at this point that Gabriel isn't baptized. This is in part because I wasn't sure I "agreed" with infant baptism, and it's also in part due to the fact that his dad is a minister and there is some inherent conflict there that I am not quite ready to face. If I had him baptized, I would want it to be at our church, where the people know and love him and he'll presumably grow up. I imagine Brian pictures himself as the one to baptize Gabriel, but I for personal reasons have a lot of reservations about that, because among other things I think it would be painful, awkward, or both, especially if he's still a baby. We could do it at my church, and the priests there have offered to have Brian involved if we did that, but it would be strange for me to see Brian in that context. We could do it at whatever church he'll be serving next, but that would be really weird for me, and I'm not sure what the point is if it's a congregation where no one knows him and he has no real connections. Someone suggested doing it at Brian's home church, where people know and care about all of us, but I don't plan on darkening their threshold any time soon, so that's out for me, too. There aren't any other churches in the area where we have any ties, too. So if I want to pursue this baptism thing, I am left with doing it somewhere not-at-a-church, which is fine except it kind of goes in contrast to one of my biggest draws to baptism -- the congregational witness. So I'm back to thinking maybe I shouldn't impose baptism on him and let him decide for himself when he's older, so we can follow his lead.

Hearing that line about him being marked as a child of Christ, though -- that's something this mama very much wants for her little boy.


for all you overly curious out there

Just a little heads up: I've added a new Goodreads widget to the blog layout.

Don't you just love that word? Widget. Hilarious.


a deeper lent

Lent has always been a part of my spiritual life, but I don't think I ever got a very good understanding of it. For the longest time, Lent was when we draped stuff in purple (yay Lutherans!) and talked about "giving up" things. Chocolate, sodas, and TV were popular choices. Note: I think my lack of understanding probably had more to do with my not paying attention than it did an improper or inadequate theological upbringing.

Turns out there's more to lent than just swearing off candy for a while and then giving up three days in. The Anglicans (and the Catholics, which, duh) talk about focusing on three spiritual practices during lent: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These are three areas of spiritual growth that I think are pretty important for any devout Christian (of any traditional persuasion). We should pray, that's a given. Fasting is something that we maybe don't think about very often but in general is seen as something that "is done" from time to time. And almsgiving -- giving your money to causes -- is certainly not an unfamiliar topic to the churched.

This lent, as I start to take on some of the spiritual practices of the liturgical year, I am thinking about how to incorporate these three lenten teachings into my day. I do a lot of conversational praying as I go about my regular business (generally of the "help, thanks wow" variety, and most frequently of a "helphelphelphelphelp me please!!!" or "thankyouthankyouthankyou" bent) but sitting down and praying is not really something that is a part of my life right now. Prayer, for what it is, is maybe not too difficult of a practice to incorporate, at least in theory.

Almsgiving is similarly pretty easy to figure out. We live with such abundance in this society, and how many of us never even realize it? My income technically puts me below the poverty line, but I am still astounded every day by the ease of my life, the abundance I have, the good fortune I so easily take for granted. Alms is kind of a funny word, not one that we hear or use all too often outside of Ash Wednesday services, but the concept of giving to those less fortunate is not unfamiliar and it's not too tough to figure out. I regularly donate my excess stuff to Goodwill and I tithe to my church and another ministry, but I'm sure there's more I can do. The tzedakah box my mom brought back from Israel for Gabriel is currently sitting on my kitchen table with my bible, lent book, and candle, and I'm pondering how I might be able to combine the tzedakah tradition of Judaism with the lenten practice of almsgiving in a way that makes sense for my situation and will be teachable in the coming years.

Fasting...yikes. Nobody wants to talk about fasting, right? We used to refer to giving up chocolate (or whatever) for lent as a fast, but I don't really think that's what the church founders had in mind. Any significant fasting in the not-eating-anything-all-day sense is probably not feasible for this nursing mama, but I am poking around for thoughts on fasting a meal here and there, or maybe doing the no-meat-Fridays thing or something like that.

So. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving. These are what's been on my mind lately. They're adding up for a new, rich, deeper take on lent this year, and it's been really cool to move into this season.

Do you do anything different to mark the days of lent? Do you think there's merit to participating in these old traditions?


ash wednesday

It's Ash Wednesday today. I've got a few things to do, not the least of which is to have a visible sign of my faith placed on my forehead. Below, I've pasted one of the scriptures for today. It's a piece of a larger something I memorized in the 6th grade...odd how I "knew" this scripture better back then, being able to recite it and all, but I didn't really know what it was saying. 

I'm contemplating the practice of fasting this Lent. Have you ever fasted?

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


preparing for lent, with a toddler

For a while now -- maybe a couple of years or so -- I've had an interest in celebrating the liturgical year, observing major feasts and festivals and liturgical traditions. I think it stems from my Lutheran upbringing steeped in liturgy. Before I was pregnant, I found myself browsing family blogs written by moms who are intentional about making church celebrations a part of their home life. Then I was pregnant, and then my marriage fell apart, and then I had a baby...and my interest in liturgy at home grew but my capacity to read shrank.

Now that I'm getting re-calibrated, I'm turning once again to liturgy, at church and at home. Really, liturgy is what drew me to the Episcopal church, and this rich church history of tradition and ritual is something I want to learn more of and teach my son.

Advent was kind of the beginning for me to dig back in, find the books, revisit the blogs, and get my head in the right place. Since then, I've been aware of what's going on in the liturgical year but I haven't done a whole lot of actual practice yet. And now, step one is right around the corner: Lent.

There's a real desire to carry Gabriel along with me and make these celebrations a part of his life from the beginning of his consciousness. He is not old enough to pick up on any of the significance of Lent, which leaves me a lot of room to get my feet wet and figure out how these celebrations might look for our little family. I'd like to involve him in ways that are age-appropriate, even though he isn't quite learning anything yet. It can still be a part of our collective memory -- the family memory. Celebrating the church calendar is something that we will say we do, that we've been doing since before the time he could remember anything.

Right now the primary resource is a book I found maybe a year and a half ago, called To Dance With God. I've read the book and it is rich with ideas, but it is so much more than a list of festivals and rituals. It's a resource for understanding the basics of theology, for finding ways to distill big concepts into things that can be grasped by people of all ages and experiences. I think maybe it's from a Catholic bent, but I could be wrong about that.

In addition, these are three of the blogs that I've found to be particularly helpful as I get my head around this whole church-at-home thing:

Like Mother, Like Daughter (this is actually one of my very favorite blogs of all time, hands down)
Watkins Every Flavor Beans (this one has a Montessori/Godly Play approach that I just love-love-love)
Carrots for Michaelmas (this one also has a homesteading/DIY sort of aspect, which of course I eat up)

At least two of these blogs are from Catholic families, though I haven't found that to get in the way of what I'm after. Episcopalians aren't necessarily too far from Catholics when it comes to liturgy, as best I can tell, though there is maybe not as strong of a push on the saint stuff.

If you're curious about celebrating the liturgical year, I'd recommend starting with any of the things I named above. I've found Pinterest to be another great resource, especially for digging up ideas for a specific feast or holiday (you can find my specific Pinterest board here). And there's also the good old internet search, beloved standby of mine (that's my referral link to Swagbucks, which I also love-love-love).


nouwen on forgiveness

Some stuff converged, my tired brain sputtered into gear, and I'm now on kind of a theology kick (in case the Bonhoeffer stuff didn't give that away). Part of my self-imposed theology overdose is a subscription to the daily meditation from the Henri Nouwen society. Each morning -- or maybe it's just weekday mornings...quite frankly, I'm too tired to notice -- I get a little email with a piece of Nouwen in it. 

Have you read much Henri Nouwen? He's like totally dreamy. My friend Angie introduced him to me several years ago when I was going through a particularly rough patch, and he's been one of my besties ever since. He's always got something new and relevant to add, and he does it in a way that challenges you without scolding you or coddling you. You should meet him. Here, I'll introduce you! This is what he told me the other day: 

Healing Our Memories
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.
Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.

See what I mean? Dreamy. And now I shall add my clunky thoughts and ruminations on my own navel.

Forgiveness is not something I think about often. It's one of those things that comes fairly easily to me, I think. Relationships are important to me, and I don't often find it hard to set aside past hurts, accept apologies, and move forward, restored. I do this maybe to a fault, becoming permissive and even complicit in really bad behavior, but ultimately my particular ability to forgive is something I see as a gift, and something for which I often thank God. Unforgiveness is destructive -- I've witnessed it, firsthand. It's destroyed families, it's ended friendships that once brought joy, and it killed my marriage

Divorce goes hand-in-hand with unforgiveness. Unwillingness to forgive is what often leads to the decision to divorce, and then as two people move through the divorce process they tend to dredge up old pain and inflict new wounds. It's just part of the process. Two people make vows, and then one or both of them breaks those vows. The act of divorce, in itself, creates a wound; bad behavior and clouded judgment just worsen it.

As I was reading about forgiveness, I entertained this brief thought of "I'm so glad I don't struggle with this. I don't need to forgive anyone -- I've already done it." Come on, Ashley. And then it hit me: I haven't forgiven myself for my divorce.

I don't really cry over my marriage anymore. Really the only time I get particularly emotional is when I think about my son, and how this divorce will affect him for the rest of his life. Being divorced feels like a failure -- specifically it feels like I've failed Gabriel, in the biggest of ways, before he was even born. It's been a hard thing to get past.

As I tried to share the depth of this feeling to a new friend the other day, I was met with encouragement. I don't remember the exact words (self-loathing makes it hard to hear, sometimes) but the message was something like this: "You aren't a failure. You're a person who's had some bad things happen, and look where you are now." And that's something I apparently needed to hear, judging by how it reached me. But there was something more, something left unaddressed. This little bit from Nouwen showed me what.

"We no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over." 

Divorce isn't what I wanted, and because of that, it's felt like getting divorced is something that "happened to me" instead of something I specifically did. There's a deep feeling of failure in that. Maybe it's the sense of powerlessness that comes from being divorced. Maybe it has to do with my ultimate failure of choosing a partner*. Either way, feeling like a victim -- in this case, of my own stupidity -- is hand-in-hand with feeling like a failure.

But if I take all of three seconds to look around, it becomes obvious that I'm not a failure.  My son is healthy. He is happy. He's growing and engaging and he even pees on the potty occasionally (a fact I managed not to share with my friend at dinner but have not managed to excise from this blog post). I keep both of us fed, and 98% of the time it's not junk food. I dredge up enough work each month to get the bills paid. We have a small but beautiful place to live that is slowly...slowly...becoming our home.

Clearly I am not a failure. 

"Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts."

Now I've got some work to do.

Have you ever been surprised by how hard it was to forgive someone or something? Is reconciliation important to you, or would you rather just cut and run? Who's your favorite theologian/philosopher/great thinker?

*Some people have criticized me for marrying so quickly, but the truth as far as I can see it is that we could have dated for years and I still would have chosen him -- the things that would have been red flags to me were a direct result of marriage and probably wouldn't have shown up beforehand. Maybe he would have chosen differently, but I don't know. We were both poor judges back then. 


friday links: quiet little life edition

- Some sweet, gentle thoughts on the magnificent and the mundane -- It really touches me to read that some moms do feel the way I do about being home with kids, deliberately, instead of drawn to work or elsewhere. 

- Such rich, profound wisdom form Ann Voskamp about failure and perspectiveI come back to this post from Ann Voskamp regularly.

- An oldie but goodie from Newspaper Blackouts - This one has stuck with me. Maybe you'll love it, too?

So tell me! Do you have any fun weekend plans? We have a little bit of adventure scheduled...Gabriel has a photo shoot(!!!) tomorrow, and then there are baptisms and an ordination at the church, which I'm looking forward to celebrating.