It’s Lent: Fast! Pray! Write!

For Orthodox Christians, Lent is a time to look at all the things that keep them from loving God and neighbor as they were made to do. It’s a time to see, identify, and as much as possible remove the shackles that keep them bound to and focused on themselves first and only, inward looking rather than outward as they were created to do. The world isn’t here purely for my consumption and pleasure (though creation is filled with beauty and deliciousness and yes, even fun), but as a means to connect, to serve, to love.

One way to get at this is restricting both content and amount of what they eat, in other words, fasting. Another is by increasing the amount of prayer, both private and a group setting (worship). A third is to take action to show love to neighbor, to someone in need, to whoever happens to be there in your orbit at the moment.

One way I am acting this Lent is to write. I still think that a person, using and sharing the gifts he or she has been given, is another way to look and act outward. For me, one way to do that is to write.

Just as not serving, not loving, not loving when and how it’s needed, when the opportunity presents itself is self-serving (what Christians call sin), not writing, when I have the chance and inclination and, I suppose, the ability to do it is also selfish, inward focused, missing the goal I’ve been given by God. And so comes Lent, a time to find and break the chains I’ve accepted that keep me from doing the good I have been made to do. And one of those good things, for me, is writing.

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A Calendar Journal, A Sentence a Day

The last time I kept a calendar journal was in 2012 (One Month – 21 Sentences). I intended the idea, writing one good sentence a day on each (or at least most) date squares on a calendar, to be a fun way to begin and maintain a writing habit. I thought at the time that starting with a small goal, one daily sentence, would help a would-be writer, or even someone wanting to exercise their brain, to get writing. So I did it for the better part of a year. I enjoyed writing well-written sentences about one bit of the day’s doings.

I now find myself wanting to re-cultivate a writing routine. Funny that’s been harder to do now, after being retired from my day job, then it was while working full time. Now, in these early January days with the holiday dust settled, I return to the page. While reclaiming my study, which had been loaned to holiday guests, I discovered an extra calendar for this year. It had been a gift from a friend, welcome but redundant, now sitting in my room waiting for me to put it to some good use. Which I have, by declaring it sacred for a sentence a day (or at least four per week).

Here is today’s sentence (which, being a rhyme, is cheating):

In this sentence/ I these wed:/ the words I put on paper/ and the thought that’s in my head. (I wrote this after reading the blog post, linked in the first paragraph of this post.)

So I wrote tomorrow’s sentence, too, also cheating, but after a few months of sentences, who’ll know or care I wrote them both today?

Instead of writing one clear, creative sentence yesterday, I cheated and wrote a rhyme about writing.

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Writing Log – 11/17/2022

Since I last wrote a writing log entry I cruised to Bermuda, visited with out-of-town grandchildren and their parents, and suffered through a gardening related Achilles tendon injury that put me on my back for five days. Though out of a daily writing routine (which I missed: good news) I continued to put pen to paper, especially on the cruise. I kept a journal of the trip in postcard format. Each entry was 50 – 60 words long and focused more on meaning than cramming content (we saw this, we saw that, we did the other) into every spare bit of white space. I tried for a balance of describing and considering the meaning of the things I saw and did. Here’s an example:

Hundreds of seagulls followed the ship as it steamed out of Baltimore and then headed south down the Chesapeake. Does the ship’s staff throw food scraps in the water that attract the birds? They do not. Closely watching the broad wake streaming behind us, I saw flashes of silver, fish churned to the surface which become supper for the voracious birds snapping them up. Watching this amazing sight was good preparation for the supper buffet.

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Writing Log – 10/25/2022

Hard to believe it’s been a week since I’ve written. The calendar showed how I reasonably, understandably occupied these past days. Grandchildcare, church, garden, and even a day of physical malaise, a reason for rest I rarely allow myself. And now at long last I’m back. At work. Departing in the morning and returning in the evening from an actual paying job made it easier to be productive, even on slow days. A person could fritter away a retirement pretty fast, years and years of good, happy, even useful stuff. Then one day I’ll be gumming my morning oatmeal at The Home I’ve been put in, wondering why no book of mine sits on the facility’s library’s shelves.

These past days I missed writing, at least at first. How easy, to miss it less and less. And now today it feels like a chore. Work is a chore, and writing is no different. It would be more fun to be eager to get at it. I postponed today’s work, and moved 15 minutes closer to that bowl of oatmeal in the managed care facility, by deleting nearly 3000 spam comments from the nearly 24,000 this blog accumulated sometime during 2021 when I wasn’t paying attention. My administrator stopped the flow, but I will trash all that spam. I usually do it a little at a time but today that mindless keyboard tapping gave me cover, doing a writing related task without actually writing.

Some energy kicked back in while I edited a third of the words out from the original of this post. It could lose more but for now, it’ll do.

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Writing Log – 10/13/22

Another late start: early morning grandchild care duties. That’s OK. Still glad to be eager to get to work, to notice, to be aware of the disappointment when I’m not at it, not writing as soon as I’d like to be. I finally wrote and was glad of it. I finished another Glue Lagoon story, edited a Jerusalem letter, and wrote in my journal.

At some point this morning before getting to work I realized I’m mostly writing memoir, whether the letters from Jerusalem and India or my gardening journal (Garden: A Love Story). I suppose I could call what I write essays, but they are essays of things I’ve done and experienced seasoned with reflection and response. So memoirs they are, and a memoirist I am becoming. I will spend part of my work days studying memoir.

I wonder, with more humor than alarm, if giving this writing the dignified name of memoir is a sanitized way of describing self-absorption, making an acceptable excuse for egotism. Maybe. I don’t care. For now, I want to believe, or at least pretend to believe, I have something valuable to say along with an interesting way of saying it.

Maybe writers are people who walk a narrow line between self-absorption and sharing something engaging and worth knowing with the world.

At least I’m also writing children’s stories.

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Planting a Tree with a Three-Year-Old

(Today I gardened when I usually write. I think I do better earlier in the day. I wasn’t thrilled to miss writing, but we needed to plant a tree, plus our grandson was at our house. So I gardened. A distraction from writing, yes, but one in which the distraction from work became the work, yielding this essay and another.)

This morning dawned a perfect second week of October sort of day, cool and clear, just right for garden work. Our three-year-old grandson, Adam, was visiting us today and he and his grandmother, my bride, could also help. Today was the day to plant a river birch tree in our front yard. Our city recently offered two free trees to residents. I chose the birch, as a replacement for a dying oak we had removed this year, and a Serviceberry.
We had already dug up a dying dwarf peach tree that was growing near where the birch was to go. Planted by the previous owners not long before we bought the house two years ago, it was still small. An easy job. Today we prepared the bed, enlarging the patch of lawn we disturbed removing the peach. With a spade I dug an outline of the new bed, not too big but large enough for the birch and a few perennials. Then I cut and turned hunks of sod so we could remove the grass. I say grass, but it’s mostly weeds that look lawn-like when mowed. Adam dug dirt, moving shovelsful from here to there. He stuck with it for a long time, content to dig, to pull weeds and grass, and to keep up a sweet and lively stream of chatter. Sometimes he dumped a shovel of soil on the lawn. Sometimes he put a clod of turf, with soil still attached, into the weed basket. I didn’t care. These actions were small and easily “fixed.” Though some garden jobs need the hand of a seasoned gardener, most tasks are well suited for children and give them a chance to interact with nature while they work.

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Suicide Bomb

(One project I am working on is editing and compiling 40-45 letters and partial letters, nearly 45,000 words worth, I wrote while living and working in Jerusalem 18 years ago. I edited and posted 16 of the letters to this blog in 2010-2013 at a time I was actively writing. Since I had already started the work of preparing the letters for publication, it seems a good goal to finish the task and get the collection into print.)

September 2004

Hello from Jerusalem,

Today, September 22, 2004, a bus stop was bombed. The bomb was set off in an area of town called French Hill, an area where many diplomats and expatriates live.  It’s also where many of our daughter Katie’s friends from school live. It’s where three fourths of the Consulate’s staff live. It easily could have been where my wife Anita and I would have lived if we had not brought children with us to this posting, since the houses and apartments in this area tend to be smaller than Consulate housing typically assigned to families. French Hill is an attractive and pleasant neighborhood, a nice place in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian side of town. Thankfully the bomb went off around 3:00 p.m. and not when my colleagues would have been going home. Thankfully? Yes, shamefully, though maybe understandably, that was my first thought. As if any life lost like this isn’t a tragedy. Two people died and sixteen were injured. Thank goodness my friends and colleagues are o.k., but what about some other people’s friends and colleagues affected by the event?
I am surprised how unmoved I was at first. As the news began to trickle in, I had joined my staff doing visa interviews. Since we were behind, I had moved to an interview window to process applications. I love interviewing visa applicants. It gets my adrenalin flowing and I feel confident in my ability to do it well. I love the two and three minute interactions, meeting people, hearing a bit about their life, their plans, their upcoming trip to America. Today, one of my applicants was a 16 year-old Orthodox Jewish school girl. She seemed dazed and confused but her father, a big, burly guy, six foot six, a broad shouldered man in a long black coat, black hat, a full salt and pepper beard, side curls, and a big, beaming smile. As I was entering the issuance into the computer I asked him if she, nodding my head to the daughter, was a good student. He grinned from ear to ear and said, “Yes, she is.”  I told him, “You are a proud father.” That interaction took 15 seconds and I did it while I was doing the necessary computer tasks I could have done silently, intently. Making that connection, experiencing that very human moment, acting as an American diplomat in possibly one of the most important ways I can, is part of what energizes me and part of why I love visa work.

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First Person Pronouns in Christian Worship: A Key to Denominational Affiliation and Cultural Identity?

(Part of my writing practice is to create partial documents, whether essay, memoir, or fiction, and write them into the writer’s software I use as a way to remember the idea when I work on the larger project the portion will be a part of. This practice also gives me a chance to think through the logic and language of my basic idea. Here is a thesis or theme statement for a possible stand-alone essay, or else chapter of a book, about an aspect of understanding and comparing the Eastern and Western Christian faith in an American context. As I wrote this out, I tried to keep language tight, thought progression logical, and ability to research it, doable. The topic is enough for a book; will I be able to marshal enough evidence for a chapter, or even an essay?)

I’ve long thought that pronouns, both type and number, used in Christian hymnody, prayer, and liturgical language, are useful indicators of a group’s or individual’s religious affiliation and approach to God. I have never taken the time to methodically study this by reviewing a variety of hymnals and worship books. I have guessed, however, after a graduate degree in theology, a five-year career as a Protestant clergyman, and a lifetime of participation in and study of a wide variety of Christian expressions, that the pronouns of Christian worship would demonstrate a predictable pattern. I have theorized that as one looks at a continuum of Christian denominations, with “high” or extensive liturgy and older organizational pedigree at one end, and “low” or simpler liturgy and younger organizational pedigree at the other, that the use of the first person singular: I, me, mine, would track with a simpler liturgy, a younger denomination, and an approach to God that is more individualistic, private, and subjective. Conversely, hymnody in which plural first person pronouns: we, us, our, predominate, that denomination’s approach would tend toward a more corporate, public, and objective approach to God.

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Writing Log – 10/3/2022

Today I’m focusing on, working with and writing about, Orthodox content. I realized over the weekend that I want one of my ongoing projects (or category of a group of projects) to be about the Orthodox Christian faith. Specifically I want to look at the intersection of faith and living life. How does a Christian live out his or her morality and ethics? How is and should the Christian faith be communicated, expressed, prayed? This one is especially significant for aspiring writers and, really, anybody who loves and cares about words and language. Finally how does the Eastern Christian faith differ from the Western version and how has either influenced, if not altered, the other? Concerning this last point, I think Eastern Christians living in the West, especially in the United States, have a unique challenge recognizing what is part of the Orthodox Christian faith, and what is part of the Protestant Christian heritage, and over the centuries become part of the culture, of this country. Some elements of both will agree; others will differ. As a student of both I intend to write about this question.

Last week I wrote a sermon on Luke 5: 1-11, a week ago Sunday’s text. This week, I’m looking at the use of archaic versus modern English in liturgical texts and trying to discern if the use of one or the other reveals a particular theological understanding.

I’m guessing that letters I wrote from places I’ve lived abroad such as Jerusalem and India, or the children’s book I’m working on, “The Glue Lagoon,” will be interesting to more people than theology. But I love and enjoy theology, the subject of my Master’s degree, which is why I want to add it to my writing.

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Writing Log – 9/28/2022

Just now finished my to-do list for today’s work: write another chapter of The Glue Lagoon, finish Luke 5: 1-11 sermon, and access this blog. I think I’ve begun my next career or maybe I should say occupation or even the vocation, writing, that will carry me (or am I carrying it?) well into my dotage. Maybe this work will keep me from getting as dotty as I might without it. I hope.

Several years ago I bought writer’s software, a program called Scrivener. I’m using it to write fresh material and compile and edit old. I have done enough writing over the past decades that I have enough for several books. For example, I discovered I have 44,000 words of letters I wrote from Jerusalem. That’s sufficient for a small book. I haven’t compiled letters from India yet, but am guessing I have even more. I started several projects when I last used this blog, over a decade ago, now, that continue to excite me. As I mine the archives, including this blog, I’ll collect material for these and other projects, both new and old. I intend daily work, available for any mood or motivation level: writing new material, editing old, or simply cutting and pasting from dusty documents in the stacks, both in journals and virtual, to the software.

I intend this blog, for now, to be a meta-journal, writing about writing. Unlike unconsummated forays back to writing over the last ten years, I now have goals, long-term and daily. And motivation. I intend writing 20 hours each week, and for this meta-journal to be a short and sweet, lightly-edited account and reflection.

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