Pray for my writing life, please? Thank you.

Most anyone who has endeavored to maintain the habit of prayer, or making art, or regular exercise...knows the syndrome well. When I sit down to pray or write, a host of thoughts arise. I should call to find out how so-and-so is doing. I should dust and organize my desk, because I will get more work done in a neater space. While I’m at it, I might as well load and start the washing machine. I may truly desire to write, but as I am pulled to one task after another I lose the ability to concentrate on the work at hand. Any activity, even scrubbing the toilet, seems more compelling than sitting down to face the blank page.
— ― Kathleen Norris

Sabbath Daybook: favorite children's book illustrations & other happy autumn things

Since 2006, I've been scratching away at this and that on the blog.  It's an incubator of ideas and a place to draft words.  For almost the entire ten years, I've posted weekly a list of links to things I find good, true and beautiful.  Recently I've been including one of my favorite quotations from the German poet, Goethe, encouraging us in the value of daily habits of enjoying art in all its forms.  This week I'm reminding myself (and you, too) of one of the poems that inspired this whole venture in the first place.  

The title for this weekly post has enjoyed several iterations. The most recent version -- Sabbath Daybook  -- becauseI keep growing in my understanding of this gift of rest that is also a command.  I've talked before about it here and here.

The dictionary definition: Sabbath [sab-uh th] noun

1. the seventh day of the week, Saturday, as the day of rest and religious observance among Jews and some Christians. Ex. 20:8–11.

2. the first day of the week, Sunday, similarly observed by most Christians in commemoration of te Resurrection of Christ.

3. any special day of prayer or rest resembling the Sabbath: e.g., Friday is the Muslim Sabbath.

4. (sometimes lowercase) a period of rest.

Enjoy a few bits of goodness and beauty for your time of rest this weekend.  May your hearts and minds and bodies be refreshed to know truth, peace and joy.  

Peace, friends.

Here's some of my favorite illustrators for autumn (mostly, but not all, for children's books)

Why not visit an independent bookseller or library this weekend? Indie Bookstore Finder

 Maybe even try out a story hour, if you have littles at home.  I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  I do not have littles at home any longer, but I visit the children's section of the library every time I go, and regularly enjoy curling up with a beautiful picture book.  

Here's the Spotify playlist I made for autumn:  Best Autumn.

Brian and I listened to it from start to finish driving from a visit with friends in Vermont back home to Connecticut this past weekend. The scenery and the soundtrack were a perfect match.  I napped through about half of it, which means the music was especially perfect, if you ask me.

If you must read the internet, may I suggest the following?

Walking While Black |  Our former rector, Cliff Warner at Christ Church of Austin, recommended this essay a couple of weeks ago.  The piece is extraordinarily well-written and important. via Literary Hub

Fetters & Freedom: On Thomas Merton’s vision of transcendence through faith | Brian and I have been reading a lot from Merton lately, and I found this brief biography helpful in understanding the man's conversion and value to 20th-century Christianity. via The New Criterion

Curbed pocket guide to NYC: fall 2016 | 26 places to visit this autumn.  We've got a whole bunch of company visiting in the next couple of weeks!  via Curbed

Clay-pot-truths from a minister who's also a parent | My brother wrote an excellent post that applies to ministers and parents alike.  I'd share it with you even if he didn't quote me (which he did).  via Rooted

from the archives: 

Alex is baptized! (2011) | October is the month for the annual parish retreat at our former church in Austin.  Our son Alex was baptized the first year we lived in Austin, and it was a profound occasion for our whole family.  Also, the pictures show you how bad Texas looked during the drought of that horribly hot year - our first.  

Parenting is not a covenantal relationship. Marriage is.  (2014) | Some background to the article I wrote for Think Christian a couple of years ago.  I'll tell you what: As Brian and I enter this season of "empty nest", I am so, so thankful we understood the difference between parenting promises and marriage vows.  Like thankful times a billion.  It's totally worth it, friends.

I'll leave you with a favorite stanza from Mary Oliver.  

from "Sometimes" in Red Bird: poems by Mary Oliver

from "Sometimes" in Red Bird: poems by Mary Oliver

Be astonished by the good, true and beautiful today, friends.  

And, please, drop me a line to tell me all about it.

You Are Here to Kneel [sharing at Art House America blog]

our walk back to the guesthouse after our make-do morning prayers

our walk back to the guesthouse after our make-do morning prayers

We arrive at the monastery in County Limerick around 3:00 p.m. By 7:00 p.m., I’m scolded by Father Donovan — twice. By 7:15 p.m., I’m on my single bed, sobbing to my husband across the room on his single bed. I am ready to leave.

Our family and friends gave us this month in Ireland as a second honeymoon in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. The gift covered about three weeks, but we knew we needed a full month. Our twenty-fifth year of marriage just about knocked us out with emotional, physical, and spiritual demands, and we were drained. We decided to extend the trip to one month, devoting the additional week to a more traditional sabbatical — the Daily Office, study, contemplation, and silence. In my search for a place to retreat, I discovered this ninety-year-old Benedictine community living behind the replicated walls of a twelfth-century castle on the southwest coast of Ireland. They had a room available the week we needed it, and they met our budget (pay what you can).

It felt a bit risky to make the reservation since we are not monastics, nor are we Roman Catholic. We decided to take seriously the reputation of Benedictine hospitality and hope they'd welcome two married American Protestants. I didn’t think about the risk again until we hustled toward the guesthouse doors, weighed down by luggage and high expectations.  

We were locked out, but the woman behind the main desk in the reception building assured us that Father Donovan would meet us there. She rang him up to be certain. As for getting into the acclaimed icon chapel, that would be Father Donovan we'd to see as well. So when Father Donovan answered the doorbell, my face was practically pressed up against the glass door. I was impatient for answers to my questions and words for my prayers. The monk did not hasten his gait toward the door. He opened it halfway to us, asked us who we were, and paused, as if evaluating our sincerity.  read the whole story at Art House America blog

Bonus feature: a few more monastery photos

the white bench inside a walled garden where Brian and I prayed each morning for our new church parish

the white bench inside a walled garden where Brian and I prayed each morning for our new church parish

the fountain in the center of our "prayer garden"

the fountain in the center of our "prayer garden"

 I helped make this jam from the currants Father "Donovan" picked each day

 I helped make this jam from the currants Father "Donovan" picked each day

the highly inconvenient prayer kneeler in our room

the highly inconvenient prayer kneeler in our room

Sabbath daybook for a rainy October day

Sabbath days are wonderful; autumn sabbath days are bliss.  I hope you'll join me in enjoying goodness and beauty today.  

Peace, friends.

Jacob Van Loon's geometric watercolors + Explosions in the Sky album art


While you're at it, listen to Explosions in the Sky today.  With the whole Friday Night Lights connection, it makes a perfectly fine fall soundtrack.

Or feel free to listen along with this fall playlist I made on Spotify, cleverly titled: Best Autumn


Since you'll be listening to mood music, why not dance in the kitchen while a squash roasts in the oven?  Here's a recipe Brian and I used this week.  Add some crusty bread and a glass of wine or pumpkin ale, and you're all set.


Another perfectly moody soundtrack for a rainy October day (it's rainy here in New England, is it there where you are?) ?  T.S. Eliot reading you one of his poems. If you have an hour, listen to him read the entire Four Quartets.  

Otherwise, listen to East Coker, scored by Mahler.  

At the very least, read this excerpt.  Maybe even print it out and tack it to your fridge.  (By the way, I almost always have to read poems out loud to even begin to "get" them.  I recommend!)


If you must read the internet, may I suggest the following?

Friday Night Lights Democratized TV Drama |  Friday Night Lights turned TV into literature and my kids into Texans. via Atlantic

Taking a Stand on the Farm | How the Agricultural Revolution gave birth to its own anti-revolutionary party: the agrarians. via Comment Magazine

Denmark's 'House Of Memories' Re-Creates 1950s For Alzheimer's Patients | A generative idea for museum exhibits.  What would your 'House of Memories' look like?  via NPR

Podcast episode I can't stop thinking about this week:

from the archives: September seems to be a reflective month for me. 

Top 10 Movies to Watch on a Rainy Day: by Andrew Murphy (2010) | That time my son guest wrote the post that gets the most hits on my blog.  What movie would YOU add?

Thoughts on The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry & Our Attempt to Love Texas (2015) | Amazing the difference a year makes.  One thing that will always remain the same is our love and gratitude for the people of Texas. 

We're headed out today for a New England road trip.  I'm guessing I'll have lots of photos to share here next week.  Enjoy your day, friends.  Find peace in rest and trust the Giver of all good things to meet you there.

What's one of the most lavish meals you've ever experienced?

An amazing breakfast - smoked salmon and eggs on Irish toast with freshly-squeezed orange juice and homemade scones - at our splurge hotel in Ireland (Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co. Waterford)

An amazing breakfast - smoked salmon and eggs on Irish toast with freshly-squeezed orange juice and homemade scones - at our splurge hotel in Ireland (Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co. Waterford)

I'm thinking about feasting this week.  You too?  Probably the fall, and the anticipation for festive get-togethers around the calendar corner.  

I'm thinking about feasting because in a few days I have an essay going out into the world at one of my favorite sites.  A place that values feasting and hospitality and the sacramental life.  (I can't wait to share the story of me and my new curmudgeon monk friend in a couple of days!)

I'm thinking about feasting because I stumbled on a gorgeous television series that makes a cinematic artform out of food preparation.  I have never (and maybe will never this side of Heaven) be able to afford the lavishness of the feasts these genius chefs create.  For now, I'm completely satisfied to imagine the taste and smell through the skillfully directed camera lens.

Chef's Table reminds me of another favorite reality foodie show our friends Shaun and Katie introduced to us last year.  I'm not a foodie and have barely ever travelled out of the U.S. and still found myself weeping during some of these food and culture stories.  Also: Phil Rosenthal is a precious man, don't you think?

The conversations about feasting always remind me of my favorite foodie movie of all time.  You want to talk about the reality of the Gospel found in food?  Watch this movie and give thanks.

I was talking with a dear new friend yesterday, and told her my conversation starter for the week.  She told me a sweet, sweet story of a meal she and her husband enjoyed with friends in a fabulous NYC restaurant just before having children.  She joked that sometimes we get a bit super spiritual answering these sorts of questions.  When I asked if she'd reply with her story when I posted the question on the Facebook page, she teased that she'd probably give the "spiritual" answer which, obviously, involves the Eucharist.  I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.

Fair enough:  let's keep clear that our so-called spiritual and secular lives are a seamless garment. After all, that's the whole point behind the term "sacramental life".  Ordinary, visible things making plain the invisible graces carrying us through the present world.  

Which reminds me of something my friend Laurel commented on the Facebook page yesterday.  She mentioned some good feasting memories that were a lot about the quality of the food.  Then she mentioned a memory where the food was only a side dish to the unforgettable scenery.

 I have some great memories like that, as well.  And I've added a whole new cache of memory from our trip to Ireland this past summer.  And they don't replace some of the simpler meal memories of eating pondside with my family at my grandparents' little cottage. Or the time, mid-July, Brian and I grilled steaks for a dozen family members while we all floated on a motorized raft across an Adirondack lake. Or the time my friends feasted with both food and art for my 38th birthday.  

Feasting of any sort is pure gift, don't you think?

 What memories do you have of the best-tasting meals of your life?  

I'm listening.