On Winter Rest and the Imitation of God

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
~Ecclesiastes 3:1

“To everything – turn, turn, turn;
There is a season – turn, turn, turn;
And a time for every purpose under heaven.”
~The Byrds

The frost of an Ozark winter has set in. In the mornings, the frigid sheen of colder nights blankets grass and cars alike. It is a thinner frost this January–the temperatures being more temperate across these hills than in years past–but it is frost nonetheless. This sheen washes the color from the mountain pallet, leaves a nostalgic impression as nature’s white contrasts against the black and gray of the early morning sky. Some may say that winter is the bleakest season, but there’s beauty here if you’re willing to find it.

All of nature is still here. The mole in my front yard has ceased his tunneling, stopped somewhere between the two mounds of rich black dirt pushed up twenty feet from my door. Come spring, I’ll need ideas to rid my yard of the pest (anyone?), but for now, he and I both rest.

The birds have all flown the coop, and they have left the leafless oaks still and quiet. The oaks stretch exhibitionist arms upward, spines straight but still in a posture of rest. The butterfly and moth larva have burrowed deep into the warm earth under these oaks, and the king snake rests in his den under the warmer, lower layers of the compost pile.

All nature is at rest here, all nature–that is–except the squirrels. If God made a single animal with boundless energy, with an inbred inability to cease striving, it is the squirrel. They spring from branch to branch, drop down to the ground looking for opening pecan husks. Even still, they are gathering, hoarding. I consider their dens, the liberality of their nut stores, and I wonder whether God chuckles at the busybodies of creation.

In six days, God created all these things. On the seventh day, he rested. It was his Sabbath, his winter holiday. He created this rhythmic calendar, the seasons that speak to nature’s need for Sabbath. (All nature save and except the squirrels, that is.) And creative as he was, he breathed life into the dormant dust of nature–this nature which itself rests–and created man. Yes, we are made from material that needs a fallow season.

“Cease striving,” he says, “and know that I am God.”

 

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I’m speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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On the Occasion of Joel’s Wedding (A Collective Poem)

This weekend, I attended a beautiful wedding. This poem commemorates the event.

*****

On the Occasion of Joel’s Wedding

Gather you fires,
awake in the collective;
come to the wedding and see
with most earnest eyes.

Something old:
the timeless way of a woman
in her most beautiful hour.

Something new:
the fear and wonder in
trembling groom’s hand;
the glassy-eyed anticipation
of his mother’s dreams lived.

Something borrowed:
the cloud of witnesses lending
amens to tender shooting vows;

Something blue:
the January sky;
the jays returning;
the handkerchief passed
from mother to daughter,
to daughter again;
the continuity of
metaphors lost
on those without eyes.

 

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*****

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Recovery Room: The People Pleaser (by Shawn Smucker)

Throughout 2015, I’ll be hosting various writers as they step into the Recovery Room. It’s not all about alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or workaholism. It’s more about the thing–whatever it is–that supplants inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something?

Today, welcome Shawn Smucker, author of my son’s favorite book, The Day the Angels Fell. I hope you’ll enjoy his words. (And then, grab a copy of his book for your children, grandchildren, or friends’ children! You’ll be glad you did. And today, the Kindle edition is only $3.99!)

Welcome to the Recovery Room.

*****

He probably thought he was dying – my 5-year-old son, that is, as he made his way from the bloody bathroom sink, through the middle-of-the-night hallway, and into my dark bedroom. I don’t know how long he stood there in the shadows and the loud humming of the fan, trying to decide what to do. But somehow I remember that feeling, as a child, watching with fascination a sleeping parent, wondering what is the appropriate way to awaken them.

I woke up that night to Sam’s words whispered through held-back tears.

“Dad, I have to show you something.”

But even after I heard him, I was still groggy. 4am groggy.

“Sammy, what are you doing? You can show me in the morning.”

“Dad, come here! I have to show you something.”

Normally “I have to show you something” is not nearly reason enough for me to get out from under a warm comforter, especially when it’s 7 degrees outside. I hesitated.

“Dad!”

Something in his voice convinced me, and I found myself stumbling over pillows and blankets, rubbing my eyes, wondering if I would ever get a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep again. (Of course, with five children, I know the answer is no.)

When we got to the bathroom, any remaining sleepiness fled. The handtowels held dark red spots. The floor was covered in drips of blood. Sam must have sneezed or spit at some point, because flecks of blood covered the white sink, red stars in a white sky. He had blood on his shirt, his face, even his socks.

*****

I thought I was dying recently. Not literally, but figuratively, as I came face to face with my addiction to approval, my incessant need to please everyone. To say the right thing. To be who I “should” be.

The first step in the death of that addiction was self-publishing a children’s book, The Day the Angels Fell. It may not sound like much to you, but just the thought of doing that had me lying awake at night, stomach churning, mind racing.

What if people don’t like it?

What if people think I’m really stupid?

What if the writing is terrible?

I thought about it from a million different angles, tried to talk myself out of it, or at least wait. There were many good reasons, none of which I can remember anymore. Then, one October day, I stared at that addiction to approval, closed my eyes, and hit the button to start the Kickstarter campaign that I hoped would fund my novel.

Can I be honest here? Part of me hoped the campaign wouldn’t be funded. Part of me thought that if I put this idea out there and it didn’t gain traction, then I could somehow escape putting myself out there. I could bypass sharing my creativity. I could retreat back into my cave, where I never took a risk and everyone approved of me.

The Kickstarter campaign was funded in 48 hours.

Everyone congratulated me. There were pats on the back, encouraging emails. But I was terrified. Now I had to publish it. I had to share it. I had to open myself up to the very real possibility that people wouldn’t like it, that they would find it mediocre, that I would be rejected.

Then the book came out, and I realized that this thing I had created had nothing to do with what anyone else thought of it or thought of me. My need for approval did not have to taint the story I had written. I realized these things as I held the book in my hands, or when my two oldest children raced through it, or when the people I had dedicated the book to spoke to me with tears in their eyes.

I stared a kind of death in the face, and I was okay. It was a step in the right direction for me, a step away from addiction. A step towards sobriety.

*****

My son was terrified when he sneezed out that constellation of blood, but you know what? It was just his first nosebleed, the result of a very dry house on a very cold night. Nothing more. We spent the next 15 minutes working together, cleaning up the mess. I gathered the towels and the blood-stained bedsheets. I scrubbed the carpet.

Engaging an addiction is similarly terrifying. Cofronting an addiction is scary, like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and our first bouts leave us shaken and panicky. But I can now say that I have been to the other side of my fear, and it is not death. Or maybe it’s the other side of death, the opposite end of the passageway. Maybe facing our addiction is like facing death, dying, and then rising again.

Life waits for us there, on the other side of that death, on the other side of that addiction. Freedom waits for us there, cloaked in sobriety.

*****

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And the Winners Are… (The Lectio Divina Journal Results)

I’ve been practicing the slower, more restful reading of scripture. For those of you who’ve followed along over the last week, you know I’m writing specifically of the practice of lectio divina. Last week, I introduced you to the Lectio Divina Journal, a tool to help with the focused practice of listening to scripture. At the end of the post, I offered a chance for a few lucky readers to get their own copies of the journals, and today is the day of reckoning!

AND THE WINNERS ARE (drum roll implied): Kris Camealy; Micah Smith; RJ.

The winners were chosen by way of an internet randomizer, which is to say that my personal preferences or biases played no part in the above selections. So to Kris, Micah, and RJ, I say a hearty CONGRATULATIONS!

For those of you still interested in the Lectio Divina Journal, may I suggest clicking lectiodivinajournal.com for more information on receiving your own copy? The more I use this journal, the more convinced I am that it is the perfect tool for individual, family, or group devotion.

Thanks to all those who entered. I’ll be doing more giveaways over the course of the year. Check back in from time to time.

But while you’re here, would you visit the comments below and answer this question: what are the biggest hangups in your spiritual devotional practices, and what are you doing to overcome them?

*****

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Hold Me

Hold Me

My youngest child
an Ozark whisp,
a collection
of reed-thick bones
and knobby joints,
asks to hold me,
reaching.

Hold me?
I ask, and
Intuiting toddler’s
inverted language,
our reaches meet,
mine and his,
and with
a tensing
lower back,
I swing him
to capable frame,
to his pillow of
neck and collarbone.

Hold me?
I consider, and
intuiting another
coming inversion,
I remember
the way of life.
There is my mother;
how she cradled
her father
in his rising twilight;
how her aging arms
slipped under his
thin-skinned
shoulders and
knobby knees.
She bent, huddled, and
whispered secrets
of the wonders
of a world
without end.

Amen.

*****

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© Copyright - Seth Haines