Monday, June 25, 2012

Putting the soul (and the silly) in summer solstice

Some people may tell you the best parties are all about the guest list, or the food, or the open bar. But I'm here to tell you they are all about the silly.

This past weekend, my roommates and I hosted our fifth annual Summer Solstice Party. This event goes beyond burgers and beers; it's about celebrating sunshine, relaxing without guilt, and reveling in a summer holiday that's not part of the Memorial Day/July 4th/Labor Day triumvirate.

Summer Solstice Party has a humble and juvenile origin. When I was growing up in PA, my absolute favorite season was summer. It signaled the arrival of my birthday (July 22, cough::hint::cough), pool visits, and endless reading. Naturally, I wanted to mark this occasion as soon as possible, and the solstice accommodated my desire nicely since we were out of school at that point and ready to blow off steam.

Each year on the day of solstice, I'd tell all the neighborhood kids to meet me and my brother in the backyard after dinner. We'd show up in our grubby outdoor clothes and bare feet. We'd bring balls and ropes and flashlights.

And then we'd play -- manic, magic, unbridled play. The kind of play that takes you across six backyards. The kind of play that helps you wear out the fireflies. The kind of play that makes you run in your dreams that night.

A decade and a half later, in a new city with a new adult life that didn't give me summers off or a yard to play in, I found myself wistful for my summer ritual. I told my roommates about it, and we decided to resurrect the concept, this time with an adult twist (read: alcohol). The idea was an instant hit, and the event has only gotten bigger each year.

This year, though ... this year put a glow in my heart that brought me right back to those golden backyard days. It could have been the fact that my brother was with me, or that we had 70 of our closest friends show up, or that I drank a fair amount. All fair reasons.

But I think the real difference was our level of silly. We had a palm tree-shaped cooler that made me giggle every time I looked at it:


Our corn muffins featured cupcake wrappers with either birthday confetti or animal prints on them:

"Corny" funfetti.

We offered up water guns, used to soaking effect -- outdoors AND indoors -- throughout the evening:

Water guns + branded koozies. We know how to roll.

Our guests brought the silly too. They set off sparklers and firecrackers before it was dark. They proudly wore the glow sticks we passed around as bracelets, necklaces, and headbands. They conducted a Cornhole tournament past sunset, rearranged the pink flamingos in our landscaping, and played several rounds of improv in the alley.

Silly, we all remembered, feels really damn good.

Let me anticipate your question here and say, yes, a heavy layer of alcohol coated the eight-hour fiesta. But I guarantee you that our amazing guests -- friendly, funny folks from all our walks of life -- would have behaved this way anyway.

Because silly releases us. Silly relieves us. Silly reminds us that our youngest selves -- ones we thought we'd shooed away when bills in our name started arriving -- are still in there, waiting to kick off their shoes and squeal around the neighborhood.

I love me some silly, and I love the season, the reason, and the people who help me bring it. May I never be too old, too jaded, or too un-summery for any of them.

Prayer #215: Soulstice (Take 2)

Put grass beneath my bare soles and send me flying back to the moment I watched the long-suspended sun knit itself at last to the hazy horizon and drop new stars to earth as blinking bulbs.

In that time I was beyond wonder. I simply saw. Believed. No -- knew. Return me, heady and heated, to that deep purple dusk, where I can seek for You, hiding in the shadows, stifling a giggle.


Monday, June 18, 2012

The return of the overemotional ninny (Father's Day edition)

Dancing with Dad at a wedding, circa 1995. (Lord help us all.)
My current bout of overemotional ninnyness started in the Hallmark aisle at the CVS last month. I was browsing through the "serious" Father's Day cards (i.e. the ones not about beer, golf, or laziness) in search of a card for my dad. The messages inside were all about Dad being there for you, Dad setting a great example, Dad making sacrifices, Dad loving you as a child and now as an adult.

The lump in my throat began there.

Then came CBS Sunday Morning's Father's Day episode. Contributor Bill Geist did a segment about his daughter Libby's wedding, and how he felt being father of the bride. When he saw her walk into the room her wedding gown, he got choked up. So did I.

The lump grew and pushed out some tears.

Then came the blessing at church for all fathers, be they with us, away from us, or gone for now. Then all the Facebook profile photos of dads and their baby girls. Then this three-Kleenex post from my friend Sarah.

By that point I was a goner -- a blubbering idiot on the couch, at church, and over my phone. I'm sure people around me thought I was nuts. I considered drinking wine at 10 a.m. just to calm down.

When I dug into it, however, the ninnyness took shape. A couple dear friends are watching their fathers battle serious illness right now. Other loved ones are marking the first year (or several) without theirs. Some are struggling to connect with their dads; some are watching them age. Both my grandfathers -- my parents' dads, two steps out from me -- are now gone.

In short, time is passing, and my ninnyness pointed out what I didn't realize I'd taken for granted of late: that not only is my dad here, but he's also in good shape and sound mind and full of love and encouragement for me. We Skyped while he opened his Father's Day gift. We help each other on LinkedIn. We follow each other on Facebook. And when we get together, we have a time-honored repetoire of eight jokes that we never tire of repeating.

When my dad posts articles like this one about children growing up and dedicates it to me and my brother, I know he's feeling the passage of time too. I don't mean this in a morbid sense; I simply mean that we are now both adults, and we appreciate that we are moving through life's incredible cycles together.

The Hallmark cards that started this relapse were right on a basic level: My dad is indeed here for me. He sets a great example. He made (and makes) a lot of sacrifices. He loved me growing up, and he loves me now. But the cards will never capture the full import of that blessing.

That's what overemotional ninnyness is for: to drive home just how good you have it.

Prayer #214: Our Fathers

For the fathers we're born to
The fathers we choose
The fathers we question
The fathers we lose
The fathers we laugh with
The fathers we fight
The fathers who scared off
The monsters at night

For the fathers who love us
However they can,
May we see You in them --
May we see a good man.


Monday, June 11, 2012

An apology to the baby bird I didn't save

NOT the baby bird we saved. This one looks slightly better and less creepy. Photo by amberbrown1993.

On the list of Surprising Things I Learned This Week:
  1. New baby birds are NOT cute. In fact, they are kinda creepy.
  2. They do NOT look at you with pleading beady eyes and ask, "Are you my mother?"
  3. Even if they did, it would NOT make a difference in my response, because I'd be too busy gagging and running away to answer.
How did I come to learn these things? I happened to be eating lunch inside yesterday when I noticed a small, strange object with a bright yellow spot rotating around in the alley behind our house. First I thought it was a leaf. Then a piece of trash bag. And then, I realized it was a baby bird, very new and very flightless, opening its beak wide in a pitiful cry as it pushed itself in circles on the blazing hot blacktop.

I gagged on my food. "Lauren," I said to my roommate, "that's a bird. On the ground."

Lauren didn't think twice. "We have to save it! I'll go get it!" she cried and raced to the closet to pull out kitchen gloves. I, however, remained rooted in my chair.

Do we have to? I thought.

Oh, the shame. The SHAME. I turned my eyes away from the window. All the chirping birds outside swelled into an accusing cacophany. Lauren was running around in full avian 911 mode, and I was sitting there eating a Caprese salad, ready to let this helpless little creature meet its natural fate -- all because I don't do well with animals period, much less injured ones, and definitely not ones that are dying or possibly dead.

The guilt poured through me. I swallowed hard and caught up with Lauren outside, who had already picked up the baby guy and was cradling him in her beak-yellow gloves. He (I'm assuming it's a he, I have no idea how to discern bird gender) had pre-feather fuzz all over his pinkish-gray body. He looked like a mini-Thanksgiving turkey, just with head and beak still attached.

I noticed a sibling of his, already lost to the natural order, laying a few feet away. "I have a box we can use," I said, eager for an excuse to move away from the body. I retrieved the packaging, added some paper towels, and brought it back for Lauren. Like a pro, she tucked him into his makeshift nest and brought him into the basement.

Oh good lord ... now he was in our HOUSE.

Cue fresh wave of guilt. Further ashamed, I called the Animal Welfare League, left a voicemail, and put out a plea on Facebook for assistance. Lauren sprang into action when my friend wrote back offering tips; she made an even cozier nest for the birdie baby and brought him back out to the tree where we found him. Stepping gingerly overly the dearly departed sib, Lauren propped him up near the branches so the mother could find him again and resume care.

I watched. From about 6 feet away. And then ran back into the house as soon as we were done, relieved a) he hadn't died on our watch, and b) he hadn't stayed under our watch very long.

As of today, our rescued pre-fledgling is alive in the cardboard nest out back, and his mother is bringing him snacks. Lauren deserves 27 gold stars for her heroic handling of this backyard crisis, and I am in awe of her compassion.

But I am left struggling with the idea that a little, helpless, peeping bird didn't awaken my animal instincts (literally or figuratively). Why was my first instinct to turn away? Why did I so easily succumb to nature? Why was my excuse to say "that's just how the world works"?

Why wasn't I willing to try?

I let fear win outright. I didn't even investigate the situation. My sin was not to let nature take its course; it was to assume that I had no part in nature, and that I couldn't affect the course of a life, however little or faintly feathered.

Dear little birdie, I hope you make it through the week. I'm really glad for your sake that Lauren was home, because you'd probably still be in the alley chirping -- or worse, gone -- if it had just been up to me. I've learned my lesson (I hope). Be it you or your next round of kin, I promise to do what I can to help. Because even if it doesn't work, the effort is meaningful.

Prayer #213: Birdhearted

When I know I should act, give me courage to do it. When I act as I should, give me grace to do more. Turn fear into fuel, and make my second guess the final one.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

How to deal with divine attention deficit disorder

Photo by craigCloutier

This blog has a lot of prayers. Like, a LOT. So you might assume I like to pray, or that I'm good at praying, or that praying comes easily to me.

That assumption is incorrect.

What I actually have is divine attention deficit disorder. The chatty voices in my head like to have one-sided conversations with a Renaissance-esque mental picture of a gray-bearded man sitting on a cloud, surrounded by fat winged babies and laser-like sunbeams. They never pause to listen, which doesn't matter, because the mental picture never bothers to respond.

My prayer life is a bunch of prattle. I check off intentions like so many items on a grocery list. I ask for the things I think I should ask for (strength for friends, patience, world peace) rather than what I want to ask for (jobs for friends, health cures, a boyfriend). My brain declares one thing, my heart mutters another, and it creates a din that not even a saint could shout over.

So you don't have to wonder why I was excited to read Jessica Edgerton's post "Confessions of a Bad Pray-er" over at RELEVANT Magazine. She too has divine attention deficit disorder, and is prone to all sorts of tangents and daydreams.

One of my own! I thought as I read it. But then she made a point that stopped me in my tracks:
[...] as I’m starting to drift, I’m still trying to keep it God-focused. I’m not really talking to God, but I’m at least using the excuse that I’m still talking about God. They’re not so far removed from each other, right?

But then notice the digression. I fool myself into believing that it’s still time with God since I’m considering “serious theological issues” and that those considerations are as valuable as praying. Which they aren’t. And that I’m truly communing with God. Which I’m not.

Oh crap. I started this blog because I was having trouble praying, and I thought making it a formal exercise would help me reflect. Every week I try to make some aspect of my life God-focused. And every week I usually fail to pray the prayer I'm writing.

So how in the world can I achieve communion (which in and of itself sounds very lofty and difficult)? Well, maybe a start is to ditch the term 'communion' altogether.

For example, my spiritual director once told me that prayer is simply quality time with God. She likes to spend it over tea; she just pours a hot cup, curls up in her armchair, watches the sun set, and sits with God.

That's it. No petitions. No litanies. No formal attempt at dialogue. Just being.


Seriously??? This is a thing???

Maybe it ties to something else Jessica said in her article:
[...] We grasp hold of the times when we remember what it feels like to be close to Him. We struggle through the distractions, the lack of emotion, and sometimes even the boredom because these are the times when struggling in prayer is most important. We talk to God instead of just thinking about God stuff. And when we start to wonder what makes alligators and crocodiles different, we stop, take a breath and try again to change, to get rid of the “little systems” that turn prayer into something that lacks true communion.
God is not easy. Thus, prayer is not easy. Like any relationship, it requires commitment, attentiveness, and practice. We could waste energy beating ourselves up over our all-too-human struggles, or we could start small. Inhale. Exhale. Recall what good times feel like. Pour a cup of tea. Ask God to sit down. And then see what happens.

Prayer #212: Have a Seat

Sit with me, Friend, and listen to the quiet unspool across the dusk. Watch the final swoon of day drape around the windows. Feel the solid weight of me beside You, You beside me. Let's be together, and nothing less.