Tabernacles, Too.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Personal photo

A year ago – on March 5, 2020 – I sat on this bench and stared at this church and took a photo just like this one, feeling something stir within me. I was visiting the Catholic University of America campus in Washington, DC, discerning enrollment in the university's PhD program in English in Fall 2020.

With ample spare time between lunch with a pair of current students and a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies, I wandered into the campus library. As a visitor, I found the building map difficult to decipher and, in searching for the literature stacks, stumbled into the philosophy and religious studies reading room instead. Surrounded by so many motivated students, quietly toiling away in the study carrels before their spring break, I felt that I should read something, too – and that some extra prayers wouldn’t go amiss right then. So I pulled a lectionary off the shelves and flipped to the readings for Mass that upcoming Sunday: the second Sunday of Lent, Year A. The first reading explained how God called Abraham from his homeland to a land that the Lord would show him: away from all that felt familiar and comfortable.

I reflected on these words again at Mass the following Sunday, after returning home. Was the Lord calling me somewhere new?

Then, two days later, I sat with my friend Kat in the Colorado sunshine during our lunch break and shared with her all that was vying for attention in my discerning thoughts. “I just don’t know,” I said. “It would be such a big risk. How do I know if it’s the right one? And…” I hesitated to mention the part I was most nervous about, “what if I take the leap and God doesn’t catch me?”

Kat sighed thoughtfully – as she usually does before she’s about to drop some wisdom – and leaned back on the bench, stretching her legs out in front of her. “You know, I think we usually believe that we have to have all the answers before we can trust,” she said. “But trust is what happens when you jump. You build it in the not knowing. You build it when you allow Him to show up and catch you, moment by moment.”

We all know what happened after that. Three days after that conversation, we all jumped – every last one of us on this big blue planet. We didn’t know where we were going as coronavirus took hold of our hopes and dreams for the foreseeable future, and schools, venues, and restaurants closed in rapid succession. We were all called, like Abraham, to leave the familiar comforts of our homeland and journey to a place that God and God alone would show us, because goodness knows we were powerless to conceive of it.

It seemed so counterintuitive to look all this uncertainty squarely in the eye and add more uncertainty to it.

And yet. When the world got quiet, I could hear myself think. And more than that, I had created space for the still, small voice to speak to me. And God called me to leave my homeland and follow Him to Washington, DC.

So I did.

I wish I could offer some sort of resolution to the story, and say that after moving here, everything unfolded with ease and perfect understanding. But I left campus that day last March with more questions than I had answers, and I have them still. Trust is a dance I’m still learning to do, daily.

But here’s the thing I’m learning, a fact which isn’t a resolution but is maybe, at least, a promise:

If God is Mystery, then uncertainty is sacred. The not-knowing, the blurred vignettes of our daily existence: these are tabernacles, too. He is here. And as we are walking together, I am learning to trust Him so much more deeply than I would have if I had only stayed still in fear. Because trust is indeed built in the dark, but more than that, it’s built in companionship. And when I move without knowing, that’s when I allow God to show up by my side.

So I keep forging on. And because I know that He goes with me, I walk with confidence.


 

 




Mission Statement: To Seek and Share What's Beautiful.

Sunday, March 7, 2021


Photo by SPACEDEZERT on Unsplash


I think it’s time to update my mission statement, especially seeing as how I never really wrote one to begin with. Oops.

There’s an “About” page on this blog that comes pretty close, I think. But while it shares a little bit of my story and explains where I derived the name of this blog from, it doesn’t really describe what I want to do in an active, mission-oriented sort of way.

People talk a lot in the writing world about “serving your reader.” Who is your reader? What do they need? How can you encourage them?

For a long time, I didn’t know the answer to that question because I was writing just for me. Or for a person just like me: someone searching for her place in the world. I’d write whatever stirred up in my heart and hope that it would resonate with someone else, too. It wasn’t an unhelpful way of proceeding, but it did feel a little as though I was missing something. What does the world really need? I wondered. And how can I serve it?

I realized that at the heart of the encouragement I hoped to provide for others lay the determination to show people that this moment -- whatever anxieties or fears it might hold -- is not the end. That there is Resurrection hope and glory on the other side of the longing, of the mess, of the transition. That there is a surplus of beauty worth clinging to in this world.

Recently, I logged back on to Instagram after a months-long fast to find a single post from a college acquaintance named Georgie about how she was choosing to step out in bravery, trying this new blog writing thing and sharing her heart with the world. Encouraged by her “yes,” I reached out to see if she wanted to be writing accountability buddies -- or just writing friends, more generally speaking. She agreed, and we chatted for an hour one evening last week about inspiration, fighting lies and impostor syndrome, and living bravely: what it looks like to call forth the good in other people and in ourselves, to champion others’ success, and to see the world for all that still shimmers within it.

In listening to me share my own reasons for becoming a writer, Georgie repeated something to me that I had known intuitively but never really owned about myself: that my “theme” is seeking beauty and sharing it with other people. “What a time to be doing that!” she’d said. We need beauty now more than ever.

But really, there is never going to be a time when the world does not need beauty. I hear this call -- this cry -- issuing from every human heart, and I want this blog to be a space where it’s answered. Where the dreamers and the romantics and the storytellers can be satiated. Where we’re brave enough to cling to the promise of hope and joy in the middle of the mess, where we refuse to settle for the gloom and dismay that the world often peddles us instead. 

To seek and share what’s beautiful.

That is my mission. 

Join me?


Don't Heed the Weeds.

Friday, August 7, 2020



The weeds will come.

They’ll come at night when you’re about to go to sleep, or when you’re driving to Target on a random Wednesday afternoon. They’ll come and they’ll crowd out that decision you made in soundness of heart and sureness of spirit. They’ll try to convince you that you’re making a mistake, that the peace you’ve been feeling is only of a superficial sort and not the abiding kind. They’ll whisper that you should turn around and go back, that you should slam the brakes instead of accelerating into the unknown. They’ll tell you that the Lord is a God of scarcity and not of abundance, that there’s nothing for you where you’re going, that you’re leaving the best behind.

These are insidious lies.

I believe that if weeds are showing up, it’s actually a surefire sign that we are doing something hard and holy and brave and good.

Jesus uses so many parables in the Gospels to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, but I’ve been meditating on one in particular since it was read at Mass a couple Sundays ago. In Mt 13: 24-30, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a humble farmer who sows good seed in his field. The farmer is pretty excited about all the potential in that field, about all the good wheat that’s going to be grown, but then his enemy comes in the middle of the night and tries to sabotage his crops by sowing weeds there, too. The farmer’s slaves are alarmed to see weeds growing alongside the wheat, and they ask him: “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?” Their master doesn’t hesitate: “An enemy has done this.”

An inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which can often be identified -- at least in part -- by the consolation it brings, is the good seed which the Lord sows in our own lives. But if we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that we will face opposition. The Evil One will plant weeds, because he can’t stand watching us use our gifts and talents to further the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes those weeds might take the form of external obstacles to fulfilling God’s will, but most often, I see them as those doubts, fears, and lies that try to convince us we’ve made a mistake and should abandon our efforts. Recently, I’ve felt this in my own life with regard to moving across the country and going back to school. I’m worried I heard the Lord wrong, that maybe this will prove an unwise decision, after all. I’m afraid I won’t find community. I’m nervous about budgeting on a graduate student stipend. I’m worried I might fail all my classes. I’m anxious about all things COVID-19. These fears pile up to persuade me that I’ve made a terrible mistake, and that I’m better off staying where I am, that I’m safer here.

In these moments, I’m tempted to wring my arms in despair and ask God, “Hey, what’s happening here? Didn’t You sow good seed in this field? Didn’t I make this decision in peace? Where did the weeds come from?”


But He looks at me, when I want to turn back, and says, “An enemy has done this.” And His meaning is plain: Don’t heed the weeds. Don’t listen to the Evil One. There is Kingdom Work for you ahead. Press on.

Becoming.

Monday, August 3, 2020




A spiritual director told me once that it’s a good idea to “gather the graces” from one experience before transitioning to another. 


And so, since I am moving in a week, I wrote some words on index cards -- the major themes and defining moments of the last five years, the movements of the Holy Spirit in my heart, the fruits grown in this season -- and I laid them on my bedroom floor. 


Words like Community. Prayer. Fear. Anxiety. Trust. Peace. Joy. 


And I saw in this smattering something I never did before, in all the time I spent feeling like I didn’t have my life together. I saw that becoming isn’t something that just happens to you all at once, when you attain the degree or find the right job or move to a new state. I saw that becoming isn’t an accomplishment you can wear; it doesn’t arrive in a StitchFix box on your doorstep.


Becoming, I realized, is not the destination; it’s the method of traveling. You don’t get from Point A to Point B without a whole lot of becoming in between, the kind that takes time and prayer and openness to what the Spirit is doing in your life, even if -- especially if -- you don’t understand it. 


This is all very good for me to remember, because, like so many others of my generation, I can’t help but feel that I should be Somewhere Else by now -- married, maybe, with a promotion or two under my belt in my chosen career. But Somewhere Else is a traveling circus that is very difficult to pin down. It thrives in imaginary expectations and has no basis in lived reality. I shame myself so readily for not having discovered my vocation at the end of college, afraid I wasted all those in-between years, without ever stopping to consider that maybe those dreams needed time to mature -- and so did I.


While a friend of mine reflected on her own life recently, she said to me, “If someone had told me the plan five years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.” And I have been clinging to that lately when I need a reminder that my life is right on time. 


If someone had told me to move to Washington, D.C. and pursue my doctorate in English five years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready for it. I hadn’t yet become the kind of person who desired that. It took every experience I had in Colorado -- and all the ones that came before -- to rouse and shape these longings, and to help me excavate the yearnings I didn’t realize were buried in first grade phonics, in the eighth grade academic decathlon, in my Intro to Shakespeare midterm, in my post-college publishing ambitions.  


Becoming is slow work. It’s conversation and side-splitting laughter. It’s chai tea lattes and favorite cookie recipes. It’s your first job. It’s a master’s degree program. It’s renting your first solo apartment and drinking wine out of paper cups with your best friend when you haven’t unpacked your glasses yet. It’s writing papers and revising them. It’s going to therapy. It's early-morning prayer and afternoons in the Adoration chapel. It’s singing your favorite song at the top of your lungs, and breaking it down in dance class. It’s fruitful new friendships and awkward first dates. It’s your first year teaching elementary school. It’s desperation and jubilation, exhaustion and exhilaration. 


But mostly, becoming is simply this: showing up for your life, one day at a time. You can’t do that and remain unchanged. 


You cannot show up to your life, one day at a time, and remain unchanged. 


When I moved to Colorado, I thought it was just a place to be on the way to something else. I was sure I’d be here two weeks -- a month, max -- before going wherever it was I felt I really needed to be. And then I thought I would become someone. 


But looking at all those words I spread out on the floor, I think I finally “got it,” that these five years were a season of becoming. That they were necessary. That this wasn’t wasted time, waiting for something else to start. That, to paraphrase a favorite quote by Fr. Mike Schmitz: Who I became while I was waiting, was every bit as important as what I was waiting for. 


Hannah Brencher calls this consistent and mostly unremarkable unraveling, “slow magic.” I think I might just call it perspective.


All this to say, if you feel like nothing is happening for you in your life right now, I promise you this: something is happening. Something is happening.


Show up. Stay the course. Press on. And gather all those graces. Gather them often. Scoop them up and press them to your heart. 


One day you will see it, if you don’t already: that you’re not the same person today that you were then. That you were becoming, too. You still are.


And that’s the best part.


Thank You for the beginning.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash


Lord, thank You for the beginning.

Thank You for the darkness ahead, yet to be illumined by the wild ways You're going to blaze through it, with a fire that torches everything I think I am, for the sake of refining, for the slow, deep work of continued becoming.

Thank You for the million unknowns, splintering in all directions from the flimsy rod of certainty. I am afraid to touch them, but You know better. You know that Your rod and staff promise a different kind of certainty, promise comfort in the valley. And You know that the uncertainties are invitations that offer the Holy Spirit space to breathe in and through and around me.

Thank You for the fiat, for the yes that's said in the fog. I could choose to fear that fog, or I could see in it the unmistakeable breath of the Spirit, overshadowing me as it did a girl from Nazareth 2000 years ago, who was given nothing in the face of her unknown except the promise that You would be with her.

And that was enough for her.

In her uncertainty, she praised Him. She gave thanks. She sang for joy. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior... The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Lk 1:46-47, 49).

My good friend Kat, paraphrasing Fr. Michael Gaitley, who was probably inspired by Our Lady's example, once explained to me that gratitude begets trust. She told me about an exercise she did in which she gave thanks for everything she couldn't understand. One thing after another, her heart poured forth a litany of thanksgiving, turning reasons to fear into subversive joy, into daring confidence, into bold trust in a faithful God who keeps His promises and shows up for us, every time -- even if we can't see how just yet.

And so, I thank You for the beginning. I thank You because I know that someday, my yes, this tiny, brave step forward, will make miraculous sense in the context of the glorious unfolding before me.

Retrospect assures me that I can trust You, that You're always at work connecting dots, making a bigger picture, asking only that I move my pencil from one to the next in humble submission to Your gentle hand. You've done this before. You know how it will end. You have never failed me yet.

And so, I breathe deep.

And I thank You for the beginning.

The Real Magic of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child": Takeaways From the Play

Sunday, January 26, 2020


I remember hearing once -- in a monologue given during the acting class I took in my first year of college -- that there are only two stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.

But the more I consume quality entertainment -- which I define as that which leads us to what's true, good, and beautiful -- the more I am convinced that there is really only one story: the longing to be seen, known, and loved -- and the desires for relationship or achievement that drive that longing.


A Father's Love

I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts I and II in San Francisco last weekend, and, without spoiling anything for those who wish to see the play, I will say that it certainly lived up to the hype. To use a pun that is both one hundred percent intended and undoubtedly trite in this context -- the effects, the music, the costuming, the sheer wonder of realizing Harry Potter's world on the stage were all just so... magical. 

And yet, as impressive as all of those elements might have been, I believe that what makes the play so resonant is, first, that it points to something true: the longing to be in relationship, to be seen, known, and loved.

This sensational piece of theatre is really just about a father and a son who are yearning to be in relationship with one another.

Albus Potter, feeling inferior to and resentful of his father's fame, decides to steal the only remaining Time Turner and endeavor, along with his best friend Scorpius Malfoy, to save Cedric Diggory from dying in the Triwizard Tournament during Harry's fourth year at school. Ostensibly presented by Albus as a desire to do good for its own sake, to right an unnecessary wrong, to "spare the spare," it's also a bid for acclaim and renown of Albus's own.

And though he never claims he wants to do any of that to earn his father's approval (if anything, Albus seems to want to spite his father by correcting what he considers Harry's negligence) the show is filled with missed connections between the two characters.

Before Albus leaves for his fourth year, Harry gives him the blanket he was wrapped in when he was dropped on the Dursleys' doorstep, telling his son (on page 40 of the official script book) that he thinks it "could be good for the two of us..." On the same page, the stage directions reveal that he "looks at his son, desperate to reach out."

Though he gave James his Invisibility Cloak, and Lily a pair of wings -- gifts intended to delight and amuse -- his bequest to Albus is rooted in a desire for relationship, which Albus is quick to spurn: "What did you think would happen? We'd hug. I'd tell you I always loved you. What? What?" (Rowling et al. 41). The scene reaches a heartbreaking climax when Albus and Harry mutually wish they weren't related to each other -- and the rupture that ensues is one they each spend the rest of the play trying to repair. Albus gets in trouble. Harry chases after him.

Until finally, they reach an understanding and "melt together" on the last page of the script. The search comes to a satisfying end.


The Will of God

I've also been thinking a great deal over this last week about the moral of this story; what is the lesson we are meant to walk away with at the end? What else is the play about?

Answering these questions has led me to one of the play's final scenes (spoilers ahead):

Albus's and Scorpius's time-traveling exploits eventually lead them and their families to Godric's Hollow on the night Voldemort kills Harry's parents. As they stand at the edge of the stage, staring straight ahead, waiting and listening for the horror that is soon to unfold before them, Harry laments not being able to stop it. Albus points out that Harry technically is able to stop it, but won't choose to do so. And it's Draco who finally says, "That's heroic" (295).

I've been turning this over in my head all week, wondering what it is about Harry's choice to refrain from acting that makes it a heroic decision, when failing to do good in the face of evil is what we Catholics would call a sin of omission. When I recite the Confiteor at Mass, don't I apologize for "what I have done, and for what I have failed to do"? From that perspective, it seems that if any event were worth intervening in, this would be the one.

We could begin to justify Harry’s inaction by saying, "everything happens for a reason" and things that have already been done happened that way because they were supposed to. If Harry had decided to stop Voldemort from killing his parents, Voldemort would never have tried to kill baby Harry that night, which both reduced Voldemort to a shadow of his former self and gave Harry what he needed to destroy the dark wizard for good someday. But I think that Christian theology leads us to a still more satisfying conclusion here, too.

It wasn't just that "everything happened for a reason," as if James's and Lily's deaths were arbitrary events. Rather, Lily, in particular, had to die that night in Godric's Hollow, and she had to die out of love, out of sacrifice, while she was protecting Harry, in order to leave an indelible mark on his soul that would protect him in the years to come -- in order to give him the tools he needed to conquer the darkness. If events hadn't unfolded exactly as they did in Godric's Hollow, as Harry realizes just pages before, "[Voldemort would] have only got more powerful -- the darkness would have got darker" (279).

Lily's sacrifice mirrors Christ's ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, to save us from our sins and give us what we need to overcome the darkness in our own lives. If Christ hadn't died for us, the darkness would have continued to spread. Instead, the greatest evil -- the Crucifixion of God Himself -- led to a far, far greater good: our salvation. He had to die so we could be free.

I don't think the lesson in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that "everything happens for a reason" so much as it is that "all things work for good for those who love God" (Rom 8:28), and that suffering always leads to a greater good when it is surrendered -- as it is when Harry realizes that he could act, but won't do it.

***

Special effects and costuming and staging and music aside, there's real magic in this show, and it ushers us toward what's true, good, and beautiful. I'm still blown away. Go see it if you can!!

Teaching Alongside St. Thérèse, and Learning to Love My Littleness

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Photo by Thomas Curryer on Unsplash

"I shouted at them a lot this morning," I said as I buried my face in my hands, successfully masking my face but not my shame. "I'm just tired of talking over them all the time."

My colleague, fellow elementary teacher Kat, sat beside me on the bench outside the front doors of our school. It was a balmy 46 degree October morning in Denver, and, desperate for some fresh air and the perspective that comes from a change of scene, we'd decided to eat lunch outside during our prep period.

Kat made a general sound of assent but didn't interrupt, gently encouraging me to continue.

"I just... As a perfectionist, I think I measure the worth of each day by how many times I lose my patience with them. Like, if I yell at them, then the whole day is shot. I'm not teaching them everything they need to learn that day, because they're not paying attention, and I have to stop class a hundred times. And," I hesitate, because for some reason this particular imperfection is the hardest one to admit to, "in those moments, I know that I have failed, again, to love them well."

As if failing to love people well is my special skill. As if this isn't something that every human runs up against dozens of times a day.

But because I know the heights of holiness I am called to, I can't shake the shame I feel when I so blatantly miss the mark.

Kat nodded thoughtfully, and that in itself was a grace, to be received with understanding and empathy. I get it, she seemed to say. I've been there. "Can I read you something by St. Thérèse?" she asked me.

"Sure."

Referring to a photo her soon-to-be sister-in-law had texted her, a picture of a page from Fr. Michael Gaitley's 33 Days to Merciful Love, she read this excerpt from St. Thérèse's own writings:

"And if the good God wants you weak and helpless like a child... do you believe that you will have less merit? .... Agree to stumble at every step therefore, even to fall, to carry your cross weakly, to love your helplessness. Your soul will draw more profit from it than if, carried by grace, you would accomplish with enthusiasm heroic actions that would fill your soul with personal satisfaction and pride."

After supplementing my reflection with some of her own challenges, Kat concluded, "The Lord wants us little right now, Sarah." 

I would like to be perfect. I would like to have classroom management totally figured out by now. I would like to be the kind of teacher who never raises her voice, who exhibits total control of the happenings in her classroom. And if none of that is possible immediately, I would at least like to be cured of the irritation and impatience I feel along the way to achieving it.

But my frustration provides an example of my littleness, and the more I can recognize and accept without bitterness or shame my littleness -- that is, the myriad ways I falter and fail each day -- the more I allow God the room to fill my heart with Him, to do what I am incapable of -- in other words, to be my Savior.

The shame I'm tempted to feel when I mess up is not of God. Instead, it is a projection of my own human weakness in desiring perfection and the false belief that I am only worthy -- of others', but especially, of God's -- love if I never succumb to my frailties.

Is it possible, though, that God delights in my weaknesses, because, when recognized and surrendered, they are the very paths that lead me closer to Him? "[The Lord] said to me," Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me." (2 Cor 12:9)

And the secret to embracing my littleness lies, not in hiding my face in shame each time I make another mistake, but in running to the Lord in freedom, asking for His grace to abound and heal me, knowing that He welcomes each tiny return with the jubilation of the father whose prodigal son has returned.

Shortly after our conversation, Kat and I embarked on the study of Divine Mercy outlined in Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Merciful Love, and now that we've completed it, I can say that I have learned to trust God and His goodness, and to surrender everything over to Him, more in the last five weeks than I ever have.

That's not to say that I never struggle at all anymore when I mess up. And it's not also not admitting blithe complacency in areas I really do need to work on.

But if I, as Fr. Gaitley proposes, keep trying and trusting in the Lord's goodness, He will, as Thérèse says, "know how He can come and get me," to help me the rest of the way.

And learning to see my failings through the eyes of a merciful God, who longs to draw me closer to His heart at every moment of every day, and isn't repelled by my weaknesses but wants to be invited into them, is making all the difference.