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Posts Tagged ‘journey’

On Sunday morning, I put on a striped dress, brewed a travel mug full of spicy black tea, and got in my car to drive to church.

This is not so different from what I’ve done for the past eight (or 35) years, except that my destination is different, and varied, these days.

I have been a part of several church communities in my adult life, and mostly, once I found them, I have plunged in, swift and sure. I visited Highland as a college student, and several months of Wednesday night meals in the fellowship hall, a cappella singing and welcoming faces convinced me that it was where I belonged. I stayed there for six years, singing on the praise team and joining a small group, walking through more than half my twenties with people who are still family to me.

On my first Sunday in Oxford, 15 years ago last month, jet-lagged and overwhelmed and excited, I walked into St Aldates. I fell in love at once and forever with the joyful music, the ancient liturgy read with fresh eyes, the vibrant international community and the way they welcomed me: a stranger, an American, a young woman just learning to question so many things.

Nearly nine years ago, my husband and I walked into Brookline three days after we arrived in Boston, exhausted and grubby from a cross-country move. We found welcome there too, and music, and later, a place to serve. (Eventually I found another quiet, anchoring community on weekday mornings at Mem Church, where I still show up as often as possible.)

Last September, for reasons that I won’t go into here, we lost our footing at Brookline, at least for now. And I have felt, perhaps not surprisingly, unmoored.

I grew up in church, almost literally. My parents and sister and I spent countless Sunday mornings sitting in the pews of a handful of Baptist churches scattered across Texas. When I go back for Christmas or a long weekend, I join my parents in the same sanctuary they’ve frequented since I was eight years old. There are unnumbered Sunday nights and Wednesday nights in there too, hot meals eaten around folding tables off plastic trays, mornings studying the Bible and evenings singing with the youth group, learning so many songs and Bible verses I still know by heart.

Even when I am mad at the church, I crave church. I need to be among the people of God, to hear the words I have heard my entire life: words of grace and love and redemption, the hope (however slight) that God is working, making all things new. Like most people, I picked up a few messages from my childhood religious experience that I don’t want to carry around any more. Like a lot of us, I have spent time raging at church people who have gotten church wrong. More recently, I have hurt and been hurt in ways I’m still struggling with. I believe we are called, ultimately, toward reconciliation, and I also understand that it is not instant, and not guaranteed.

Since last fall, I have spent Sunday mornings all over the place: eating brunch in a friend’s spacious dining room, or watching another friend’s little boy run around the soccer field. Sometimes I’ve slept late and headed right for the river trail, or walked with my husband to a restaurant in our neighborhood. Some weekends, I’ve traveled or entertained guests, taking a break from a place and a rhythm that had come to cause me pain.

But on some Sundays, still, I go to church.

I go because I need to hear the words: The Lord be with you. Christ is risen. The body of Christ, broken for you. I go because I need to say the words out loud: And also with you. Christ is risen indeed. Forgive us our trespasses. For thine is the kingdom. I go because I need to sing, not only alone but as part of a community: Be Thou my vision. Holy, holy, holy. Alleluia. 

I wrestle and question. I doubt and grieve. Sometimes I stay silent, and sometimes I cry. I have come to believe I need all of that, and that church is a place where that can happen. I am not sure yet when or if I’ll find a new community to call mine. I am not ready, yet, to decide one way or another.

I have been grateful, in this city, to find welcome in every church I have visited so far: with screens and folding chairs in a community center, or the box pews and crimson-covered hymnals at Memorial Church. My heart tugs at the mixture of old hymns and more recent praise music at a church I’ve visited in the Fenway, and my soul relaxes into the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer in almost every place.

While I believe God is present throughout the world, I also know that, for me, one place to find God is church. So I keep going, keep seeking, keep wiping away tears. I keep doing my best to show up, when I can. I keep listening to the words I know so well, and saying the words I am given to say: Good morning. Peace be with you. Help us, Lord. Thank you. Amen. 

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heart-trail-dusk

As regular readers know, there are few things I love more than a long walk, in any season and almost any weather. My walking and reading inform each other: the books I’m reading often provide fodder for ambulatory reflection, but some books capture the pleasures of walking itself.

Scottish author Robert Macfarlane (whose work I adore) collected hundreds of “land-words” for his book Landmarks. Each section begins with a lyrical essay about a type of landform in the British Isles (mountain, coastline, forest), and contains a glossary of related words. Walkers and word nerds – or those who are both – will find much to love in Macfarlane’s treasures from “the word-hoard.”

For those who particularly relish a walk on a wet day, Melissa Harrison’s Rain: Four Walks in English Weather is a celebration of misty treks through various landscapes and seasons. I picked it up, fittingly, at Blackwells in Oxford last year.

The octogenarian title character of Kathleen Rooney’s novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, embarks on a different kind of journey: a zigzagging walk around Manhattan on New Year’s Eve 1984. Narrating her odyssey with the wry zingers that defined her advertising career, Boxfish takes readers on a tour of 20th-century New York on her way to a good steak at Delmonico’s. I’d walk with her any time.

And finally, Emma Hooper’s spare, lovely debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, follows Etta as she treks across the plains of Canada, determined to walk until she finds the ocean. Like Lillian, she is elderly, a bit lonely and fiercely stubborn. Like Macfarlane and Harrison, she walks with purpose and a sharp, observant eye.

These books celebrate the particular joys of a journey, whether it’s a stroll around the block or a cross-country peregrination. The call to interested readers is the same: let’s go.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it appeared last fall. 

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map of salt and stars book

I’ve always loved maps. Since I was a child sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car, tracing our summer road-trip routes on the pages of my dad’s United States atlas, I’ve been fascinated by those collections of lines and space. They help us navigate the physical world, but they tell us so much more than where we’ve been and where we’re going.

For Nour, the twelve-year-old narrator of Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s novel The Map of Salt and Stars, maps are her mother’s livelihood and her family’s lingua franca. But one map in particular may guide her to a brand-new home.

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I read The Map of Salt and Stars back in March; it came out in early May. I loved every page of Nour’s story, which is interwoven with the legend of Rawiya, a young woman who apprentices herself to a famed medieval mapmaker.

I’m sharing my full review over at Bookclique, a site run by my friend Jessica Flaxman. Please head on over there to read the rest of my thoughts.

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Crimson peppermint candle, new Over the Rhine CD playing softly, music from Lizzie’s TV upstairs, cozy slippers (also red), desk lamp glowing brightly, stacks of half-finished and yet-to-be-started books on the desk. (I’m trying not to buy any more books until I’ve read at least a couple of these.) Peppermint hot chocolate in my stomach. Hours of talk tonight with Lizzie, about weddings, siblings, friends, a dog called Mayday, and other randomness. Wind and rain on a chilly night, and the prospect of a walk or bike ride into town tomorrow.

My three weeks in Texas were amazing. Chaotic, but fun and chock-full of family and dear friends. Scrabble with Jon by the fire; chatting to Adam about his new life in Seattle; coffee with Walker; lunch at the Hickory Street cafe with Julie S. Breakfast with Dawne, dinner with the Danleys, four days in Ruidoso with my family, a whole week and a half with my beloved J. I miss him already, though it’s only two months of separation this time (he’s coming for Spring Break). And a bit of me, as ever, misses the close-knit family at Highland and dinners at Rosa’s and lunches at Los Arcos.

But I am back in my own cosy room, no longer living out of a suitcase, and ready for a new semester full of plans and dreams. New ACU group arriving with Cole on Thursday; Jacque comes in this weekend; St Aldates is still here and as vibrant as ever. And it will soon be time to bury myself in schoolbooks again. Meanwhile it’s high time I had a browse in Blackwells and a scone at Queen’s Lane.

I so enjoyed the visit back to my Texas home – my past and future. But for a while longer at least, Oxford is my present, and it’s good to be back.

Let the new year begin!

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Off again

The ACU students are off to Italy, to Austria, to Turkey. My laundry is off the drying rack in Grace’s room. Jo is off to Cardiff to see her family for a few days. My classes are off until 6 November (I have to give a presentation on the night we reconvene, but we’re not thinking about that yet). And tomorrow noonish, I’m off to Austria.

I’ve been a bit freaked out about leaving as I have three major things due in the next two weeks, but if I can’t take a holiday during mid-term break, then when can I take one? And when Brittany, Kamerie, Ashlynn and Brent said they were going to Salzburg and Vienna, well, I couldn’t resist.

My reason for loving Salzburg is the same as many people’s – the beloved movie in which the hills are alive, which has been my favourite since I was nine years old. The girls watched it the other day to prep themselves for the trip, and I caught the last hour. It’s such a wonderful love story, family story, courage-and-hope story, and a God-story. And, of course, the music is fabulous.

I took a trip to Salzburg in April 2004; my roommate Joy and I just drank in the quiet mountain peace for four days, and (of course) I took the Sound of Music tour…saw the gazebo and the palaces and the church and the gardens. I probably won’t do that this time, but am planning to walk through the gardens again, and gaze at the Alps, and stroll the narrow strassen, and eat Apfelstrudel. I’ll do some reading work on the plane, then forget all about school for a few days.

And, as always when I travel, there’s the delicious anticipation of coming home. I love the feeling of stepping off the bus at Gloucester Green and breathing in the air of Oxford again. Home never feels more like home than when you’ve left it for a while. And then, of course, there will be hugs and stories at Canterbury Road. My basement boys have scattered to wild and various places this week – I can’t wait to hear their tales of adventure. And share a few of my own.

I hope, also, to have better luck uploading Austria pictures than I’ve had with Ireland pictures. So perhaps you shall see some photographic evidence of my trip soon. Until then, so long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…

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The two halves of the post title don’t actually connect in the way you’d think they would. Yes, I am glowing inside (and outside, as I am a little sunburned) from an absolutely fantastic four days in Ireland with Colton. (Though I am slightly knackered, especially after travelling all day today.) But I think the title is fun, so I’m leaving it up.

The real purpose of this post is to say that I am one of the new bloggers for the freshly relaunched Radiant Magazine web site. Click on the link and go to “Featured Blogs” – my post is called “Sacredness in the Everyday.” Alternatively, you can go to Blogs and scroll down to Sacred Spaces. I’ll be posting on there fairly regularly from here out. This post is just a little snippet, written in haste before I went off to Ireland. But I hope you enjoy it anyway. There’ll be much more to come.

Off to bed…slainte (Irish for “cheers”)!

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Off to the Emerald Isle

Drinking a cup of strawberry tea from a polka-dotted mug, with my birthday flowers (still perky) on the table, and Jo typing on her laptop nearby. Just wanted to say that I’m off to Ireland tomorrow! Colton Mailes, my dear friend since childhood (our dads grew up together and our grandparents are great friends), is studying abroad in Galway this semester. I’ve never been to Ireland (and I haven’t seen him in a couple of years), so I’m flying into Dublin and then taking a bus to Galway to spend a long weekend with him. Weather permitting, we shall be hiking and biking and generally enjoying ourselves in western Ireland. I’m so excited! Pictures and stories to come when I return!

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