I’m honored to be guest posting in one of my favorite blog series today, the Women in Ministry Series (#WIMSeries) as generously hosted by blogger, author, and friend Ed Cyzewski.
I’m honored to be guest posting in one of my favorite blog series today, the Women in Ministry Series (#WIMSeries) as generously hosted by blogger, author, and friend Ed Cyzewski.
This was the year that I was going to be extra holy.
I was going to celebrate Lent.
The very idea made me feel holier. Like I was going to be earning brownie points in Heaven for taking part in an ancient ritual that would draw me closer to the Lord and His suffering.
If anything, it’s made me feel the opposite. I know that on my own, I am wretched. Miserable. Unlovable.
I started out with a bang, giving up fast food and sugar for the season. I should probably take this time to let you know that I’m not a cook and I have a sweet tooth the size of Alaska. This would be a huge sacrifice.
Day one - No sugar. No fast food. I’m practically dripping with holiness. Easy peasy.
Day two - No sugar. No fast food. AWESOME! I CAN DO THIS FOREVER!!!! Maybe I should ask my Catholic friends if I can be canonized. St. Caitlin sounds nice.
Day three - Does the sugar in wine count? Because Jesus drank wine and I really wouldn’t want to be legalistic. Or try to out-holy Jesus. It’s official. Sugar in wine doesn’t count. On the bright side, I passed up the bowl of M&M’s calling out my name. It’s like I didn’t even notice them. I wonder if my roommates would kill me if I threw them all away. Hmmm…
Day four - No fast food. I’m halfway there today. But while I was running between activities, I had the worst headache from not eating. I needed instant energy. Lucky for me, that 5 lb. tub of Nestle cookie dough was still in the fridge. Make that 4.75 lb tub…
Day five - There’s no reason for me to be feeling guilt. Lent is an option. A freewill offering. God doesn’t want me to feel guilt over eating sugar. I’m busy. It’s not like I’m going to get the same instant energy from eating a prune.
After a few more days of this, I decide to relax the rules. Sugar when absolutely necessary, fast food under duress only. I’m not one to add extra rules to my life.
Around this time, my roommates invited me to participate in the Stations of the Cross with them. As a Protestant, I had never participated in the Stations. They were hazier than Lent, thrown to the side of Christianity that was locked up in a room I had never explored before.
As a child, the time leading up to Easter wasn’t sacred. Oh, I participated in waving palm branches like the traitorous people of Jerusalem, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how one could be so fervent one moment and then barbaric the next. Good Friday services were decidedly out of fashion. The Cross was just a moment that we tried to fast forward to. Many Protestants do. The days up to Easter were filled with hand bell choir practice and cleaning the house for relatives. The day itself was long – dressing up, performing in front of the church, and then having a dinner with the family. But it wasn’t special necessarily.
So as I sat in the wooden pew, sandwiched between roommates, boyfriends, and other members of the young Catholic community, everything was made new again through an ancient rite.
I watched as a priest and three young boys made their way through the cathedral. I kneeled, prayed, and worshipped as each station was visited, skipping the “Mary’s” and other parts I didn’t understand or agree with. I wondered if anyone cared that I wasn’t Catholic. If I would be kicked out should I be found out.
But then my thoughts were refocused back on the cross. The dear symbol of suffering and shame.
With every step that he took, Jesus had a choice. Jesus, the holy one, bore the worst punishment known to man. Willingly. When his flesh was ripped open through beatings, he still stood up to carry his cross. His blood was splattered on the ground, dripping down his sides, and still he walked on. Determined to die. Damning himself to save us. You. Me.
In The Passion of The Christ, Simon the Cyrene says something interesting. Indignant that he would be forced to help a criminal, he shouts, “Let it be known today, that I am an innocent man condemned to help a criminal.”
If only he knew the truth of the matter. Yet, I find myself playing the victim card when the truth is that I’m the aggressor.
Nothing I do on my own will change the fact that I’m a sinner. The Lent season has only served to remind me that I can’t do it on my own. If I can’t give up sugar for forty days, there’s no way I can save my soul from hell and eternal brokenness.
It’s all grace.
With Jesus, it’s all beautiful, brutally costly, scandalous grace.
And that is sweeter than a thousand grams of sugar.
Thanks Caitlin for guest posting today! Are you doing anything to commemorate Holy Week or Easter weekend this year? How do you reconnect with the significance of the cross?
This weekend my husband and I went to Agway to pick out our seeds for our vegetable garden. And I have to say, I have never been a tomboy kind of girl, I like my Anthropologie perfume and my dangling earrings, and someone might ask me if I’m lost if I wandered around too long in a place that specializes in mulch and mowers. But I LOVE Agway. Because I love the idea of cultivating something small and good and bringing it to life.
I am a gardening novice. Last year was our first try. We planted the heirloom tomato seeds my sister gave me too late, and the frost came too soon for them to flourish. But our Italian green beans were the best I’ve ever had–with a little lemon juice, butter, and fresh-cracked pepper. And I can remember the grand entrance of green spouts in my kitchen window herbs last spring, and how it was like an adrenaline kick to the wintered-over heart.
So when you place a sunlight-starved girl in front of rows and rows of colorful seed packets all for $2 and under, how can she resist?
But I think, at its root, this is more than spring fever. And I don’t think its a stretch to say that its in human nature to want to cultivate, a legacy that traces back to Eden, the garden God lovingly created for His people in which to dwell, and which He charged them to care for. I love Wendell Berry’s connection between our food and theology that he writes in The Gift of Good Land,
I believe there is a sacramental grace in the simple, sustainable, and made-from-scratch. There is frustration too. I don’t always look at my sink full of crusty dishes as a sacrament. I am disheartened to invest such care in seeds only to find them stillborn under the soil. And I am pretty sure I am cursed for life when it comes to homemade pizza dough. But in between, there are pockets of incredible grace. When I plant a seed, host a meal, share some bread, I feel that I am engaging in the work of creating and cultivating, and to me, this feels like a blessing. There’s still something in me that is thrilled to bring good things to life.
Where do you encounter sacramental grace in the everyday? How do you bring good things to life in small and daily ways?
P.S. I’m tinkering with my blog look…what do you think? I’m open to suggestions!
You can learn a lot about a person by what happens when he or she chooses to “go without.” This is what I’m learning these first few weeks of my Lenten fast from all things snacky and salty.
Where most people confess to having a sweet tooth, I crave salt. If I am hungry, it is the first thing I want. Sometimes, it is the only thing I’m convinced will satisfy me in the illusion painted by hunger pangs.
And it has always been a sensitive spot for me in the eyes of others. It seems so much more refined to crave chocolate, decadent whipped cream, confectioner’s sugar, all those things one might eat in the final course of a good and proper meal. People with a sweet tooth seem sweet themselves, like Audrey Hepburn, it’s in their nature.
But what does it say about a girl who can’t resist fries and ketchup? Uncontrollable cravings for sodium-powered chips and crunchy fried food seems incredibly base in comparison. To me, it feels embarrassing, especially when I love good, fresh, and whole food so much. I don’t wish to rely on or tie myself to such things.
But last night I wanted it all.
Zach was lounging in the other room, crunching. And I could smell the sweet chili spices of the chips he was eating, left over from a pizza and friends night over the weekend, and I could hear every soulful crunch.
So I ate a granola bar. Lit a scented candle, put on some music, and washed the dishes, soothing my hands in the hot running water. I tried to engage my other senses. And the granola bar really did nothing but irritate me, and I had to turn up the volume to keep from hearing my husband’s snacking a yard away, but in time it was okay. Not a profound experience, or a moment of illumination, but I slept through the night and started over the next day, happy with my bowl of oatmeal.
Refining Our Taste
I’ve been learning about this crazy thing called supernormal stimuli. First observed in the animal kingdom, this phenomenon is what causes male butterflies to choose wingless cardboard dummies as mating partners instead of the real, live females right in front of them. The scientists discovered that if the desirable characteristics are amplified on the fake mate, the male would choose the cardboard lover over a real one every time.
It’s absurd, but only as absurd as we are ourselves when we stuff ourselves with snacks or sweets, look at porn, live vicariously through movies and TV shows, the list goes on. Cardboard cut-out stand-ins for cravings which go far, far deeper.
We need to refine our taste for that which is truly good and full. There’s a feast to be had, every day, in His presence. And that’s what I’m trying to teach my stubborn body and soul during this Lenten season.
Have you ever come to a realization that you’re cravings or addictions are second-rate to what God provides?
This past Friday my husband and I hurried out as soon as he got home from work to beat the crowds at what we were sure would be a very busy opening night at the new brew pub in town. We grabbed the last open table with re-purposed church pew seating, sampled some impressive local brew, and talked amid the happy clamor of someone’s small business dream coming true.
In our tired but trying town, I’ve started taking every new business venture as a personal triumph. I was infuriated when I saw the headlines that our neighborhood coffee shop had been closed down due to unpaid taxes, and then elated and relieved to hear they were reopening (where I plan to leave tips from now on and forevermore). I frequent the farmers’ market and champion the local coffee roastery and bookstore over any franchise.
But I have not always been so interested in local culture. Two years ago when I first moved here after our honeymoon, I was not ready to put down any roots. It took me nine months to change my Maryland license. We slept on a mattress on the floor, not bothering with furniture which would be too hard to move later. I hated the weather.
It took some time to acquaint myself with the place and the people, but as I’ve immersed myself in our local culture, I never would have imagined how much I would come to identify with it.
Our Location Shapes our Person
Have you ever noticed how people describe their personalities according to their location? We identify ourselves by our geography. We define ourselves by our free Californian spirit, Midwestern roots, southern hospitality. We call ourselves city girls or country boys, corporately-minded East Coasters or free-flowing West Coasters.
We say these things, because where we live plays a part in who we become.
We inhabit a space and it shapes us. The ancient Israelities understood this far better than we do today. Old Testament Waldemar Janzen explains,
Americans often rely on the luxury of choosing their location, whether for a career, the climate, or another variable, but through God’s grace, we can inhabit any place and spread out our roots wide and full.
And when we are at home in our space, we are empowered to:
Our Location Shapes our Faith
A local gospel must be important for a God who entered our physical space, Emmanuel, to dwell with us. There’s just something sacred about drawing near, loving not just the abstract world but our neighbors within physical reach, and putting down roots in faith.
Do you identify personally with your environment, or perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum, resist it? How has where you live changed your convictions, interests, perspective?
  Waldemar Janzen, Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1994), 42.
[This post was originally published on Relief Journal's blog, and I'm happy to say our church now incorporates communion into the service]
In our American culture of drive-through coffee, instant Twitter feeds, and video on demand, we prize immediacy. We like to check our email on our touchscreen phone as soon as it hits our inbox, grab lunch to-go, and download live-streaming news. We are a nation of busy professionals, parents, and students living under the banner of “carpe diem,” driven by the idea that there’s no time like the present.
This “now” syndrome certainly has advantages, motivating us to work hard and invest fully in whatever we’re doing, but what happens when we apply our instant-culture values to spirituality?
I once had a bizarre experience with communion that made me consider this question. After months of exhausting church-searching, my husband and I finally found a church where we wanted to stay. It’s a contemporary kind of church, the kind that has a graphic designer on staff and a coffee bar out in the hall, and we came because we like the teaching and the small groups. But you have to understand, the church we went to before we moved was a liturgical church, the kind with Kierkegaard quotes in every other sermon and weekly communion. So we knew we’d have to make some adjustments at our new church.
But this is what I did not expect: communion that is served before the service, an addendum tacked onto and separate from the worship service. So we set our alarms a little earlier, entered the sanctuary, and found only a fraction of the congregation had shown up. The pastor said a prayer for this handful of early-risers, and at his invitation we filed up front and received the elements, and then it was over. The whole ordeal took literally five minutes. There was no time of confession before receiving the sacrament. There was no benediction afterwards, charging us to go forth bearing Christ into the world. There was no community, only a yawning faithful few. There was no ritual, no careful unfolding of holiness.
It was like grabbing Christ’s blood of the covenant, His outpouring for the world, in a Styrofoam to-go cup. It was a sacrament dictated by convenience, quickly squeezed in between other items on the agenda, and left out of the greater context of cosmic redemption.
The problem with an instant culture, and an instant church, is that a preoccupation with the present diminishes our ability to see seasons, to see story, to observe the unfolding of time. This is the pivotal idea of the sacrament of communion: Christ asks us to remember Him by taking the bread and wine (Luke 22:19), and to anticipate the future when we will eat and drink with Him face to face (Matt. 26:29).
As we now enter the season of Lent, we enter a time of waiting. There is no immediacy or convenience here. But there is a story of cosmic proportions unfolding, as we take the forty days of Lent to remember, to walk through the events of the life of Christ: the temptation in the desert, the agony of Good Friday, the silence and sorrow of Holy Saturday, and the joyful victory of Sunday morning.
It is often difficult for us to lay down our gadgets and agendas to just sit for a while, quiet our souls, and dwell with God. And yet, He laid down everything for us, making Himself “nothing” and emptying Himself to the point of death (Phil. 2:7-98).
In his beautiful poem“Seven Stanzas at Easter,” John Updike writes of the agony of the cross, “Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience…” As we cross the threshold of Ash Wednesday, let us reflect sincerely and sorrowfully on Christ’s suffering for us, so that on Easter morning, our hearts will grasp the incredible joy in His resurrection.
How do you find preparing yourself for Easter through Lent an inconvenience? How do you find it a blessing?
Jobs, relationships, traveling adventures, and the like are all good reasons for twenty-somethings to pack it up and make a move. But I think it’s also important to invest in each place even as we pass through it. It takes courage to put down roots in what you know are only temporary homes, but I’ve learned personally the richness of living locally, and immersing yourself in the community God has no doubt intentionally placed you in.
I reflect on this tension in an article in RELEVANT today, The Great Escapism: Why this generation needs to learn how to stay put
On a different note, I was interviewed last week by the editor of B (of the Baltimore Sun paper) who was doing a piece on abstinence as a reemerging trend for young adults. She contacted myself and another former intern of a non-profit that gives abstinence presentations in the Baltimore school system, and asked some good and fair questions. The final piece was published today and I’ll be curious to hear what you think.
You can read it here: Virginity in Pop Culture: Why do we care who isn’t getting any?
Also, don’t miss these two blog series I’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks:
Preston Yancey’s “At the Lord’s Table,” a candid collection of voices affirming the beauty of the church
Ed Cyzewski’s “Women in Ministry” series, a redemptive conversation of the giftedness of women to serve
What are you reading and enjoying this week, whether online or in print?
Today I’m honored to be posting in Preston Yancey’s At the Lord’s Table blog line-up, in his own words, “a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church. Look for at least two new posts every Monday through Saturday between January 25th and February 22nd. Join us in the conversation? See you in the comments.”
Here’s the beginning of my post and I’ll see you over at Preston’s blog to read the rest!
This fourth week in January, we’re caught in a changing of the tide. For we who indulged in Christmas feasting and snacking now take a solemn vow of health and wellness, stocking up on protein powder and taking advantage of yoga mat sales. It’s a cliche, but it happens annually.
My pastor opened his sermon yesterday with some stats on the new year’s surge toward physical fitness, and offered up the logic that if we are going to be so intentional about building a plan that will have lasting benefits for our bodies, why wouldn’t we likewise create a plan to consistently pursue spiritual health?
When was the last time you heard a pastor affirm the body and its physical care? As I think on previous sermons I have heard, I can recall mostly warnings and polemics against the body as it leads into (usually sexual) sin.
But I was refreshed, this Sunday, to see a treatment of the physical and the spiritual that was not communicated as a dichotomy. The forbidden fruit in Eden, the manna in the wilderness, the water turned to wine, the feeding of the five thousand, the last supper of bread and wine…these are just some of the parallels used in Scripture that God uses to show His spiritual truth through our tangible experience. But for any of these metaphors to work, we have to affirm both elements.
God speaks to us as whole people, not ambiguous ratios of body and soul, tangible and spiritual, but as whole men and women made in His image. And we do damage to ourselves when we splice this image.
I did damage to myself as a teenager, committing myself to spiritual growth while hushing the hunger pains of my self-emptied body, serving two gods, one to which I entrusted my soul and the other which I alternately praised and detested in the mirror every day.
It wasn’t until I encountered the Incarnation that I began to heal. The God who was not transcendent but dust-rooted, who breathed through mortal lungs, like me. He was whole and holy, and I became hungry again.
How do you integrate the body and faith? How do you encounter God in your physical experience?
This year I realized that all my favorite Christmas carols consist of minor notes. Beneath the soaring major chords runs a thread of melancholy.
Because even in the Christmas cradle, there is a sword. Simeon spoke of it in the temple, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
The melancholy of minor chords in Christmas songs speak to me of a world straining under the weight of the fall. They resound to remind us that we are a weary world indeed, singing bittersweet carols with the pleading chorus of “Come, Lord Jesus, Come…”
We wait, sometimes crying, sometimes rejoicing. Here are three beloved Christmas carols, with minor chords in both lyrics and sound:
O Come O Come Emmanuel
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (My favorite rendition here by Sixpence None the Richer)
O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
Oh Holy Night
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt His worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices